Lion Habitat Ranch owner Keith Evans throws a chunk of horse meat into the den as a full-grown lion jumps to retrieve it. The cat’s giant paws smack the thick wall of Plexiglas as Evans throws more meat, calling to the lion like a house cat. I’m here at the Henderson sanctuary to catch a glimpse of five cubs born on April 1. Although the count was originally six (one passed away on Sunday of unknown causes, and Evans is waiting on an autopsy), the litter is still noteworthy for its size, as lionesses normally average only two to three cubs.
“Right now she’s really protective,” Evans says, referring to the mother, Pebbles. “When they get to be about 2 weeks old she won’t care anymore,” he adds, and the public is welcome to try and get a peek at the new family.
Also on site are 48 adult lions (many of which were part of the now-shuttered MGM Lion Habitat), exotic birds like ostriches and emus and Ozzie the giraffe, who just celebrated his 1st birthday. “It’s really a shame that our state doesn’t have a zoo, period,” Evans says. He has more than 40 years of experience working with lions, but Lion Habitat Ranch recently faced a possible shutdown by the Clark County Zoning Commission due to the number of giant cats on the property.
Established in Henderson in 1989, the park has been open to the public for the past two years and received nonprofit status in 2014. An agreement was reached in March that would allow it to stay open so long as no more cats are bred (beyond this litter) until the population drops below 40 lions.