Sign outside the Lion Habitat Ranch.
I had bought a behind the scenes tour with Lion Habitat Ranch a month before the trip. They had sent an appeal for a donation. Now, I support a number of big cat rescues, as well as some little feline organizations. I will list some of them at the end of this blog with links. I could have sent them a check, but then I found out they were in Henderson, right outside of Las Vegas. And they had a private tour listed. So I signed up for the tour and to feed a lion. Which would get money in their hands and let me do something new. I had also planned to drive to Kingman in Arizona and film the way back, the way I had come into Las Vegas the first time. Unfortunately, I had a computer to shop for, so plans changed.
My first look at a male Barbary lion.
Waking up too early to get breakfast at the Bonnie Springs Restaurant, I ate at a McDonald’s in Vegas on the way. Pulling up at the Habitat I took some stills. I didn’t feel like trying to get video. I don’t know, I just didn’t want the hassle of asking and being refused. A news truck came by, passed, and then returned, to enter the gate just ahead of me. I met the lion keeper, and was told that a local news channel would be filming the first part of the tour. I asked how they knew a famous author like myself had come out here this day. So, we started in and saw the most dangerous animals on the habitat. The velociraptors, I mean, the ostriches. The keeper told me that they had to take special precautions with the ostriches, who would kick you to death in a heartbeat. They also had emus and a bunch of tropical birds scattered about. And then we were at the first lion habitat.
Male Barbary lion being fed by the Head Keeper.
I think the lion’s name was Bennie, though it could have been Benji, since they had both and they were brothers. He was a six hundred pound Barbary lion, a subspecies that no longer existed in the wild. They had several of both males and females, so I guess the breed is still alive for now. We went around looking at the cats. In one enclosure they had three elderly females, and a film playing on a TV of the wife of the habitat owner playing with them when they were cubs. The keeper fed the lions as we went along, giving them ground meat through the fence. All of the cats are hand fed, six days a week. It was explained that a fast day was good for them, and all except the elderly cats went without one day a week. We were also warned that the males will spray. While looking at one large cat he turned and lifted his tail. We had the choice of right or left, or straight back. And since the wall was less than fifteen feet away, the effective range of the lion, we all went right. When he saw us go he lost interest and trotted off.
I think this was one of the MGM lions.
The enclosures are all large, and they try to have several lions in each one, unless one is a wanabe alpha male, then they separate them. Each enclosure has a rolling cage that the lions can go in if a keeper needs to clean the enclosure, a daily task, and the cages can be rolled over to the heated inside washing station. The cats were all obviously very well cared for and I was suitably impressed by the operation. I saw several more of the Barbary lions, and the closest living relative of the MGM lion who roars at the beginning of their movies. It turns out that the MGM hotel in Vegas had those lions for quite some time, then gave them to the habitat.
Young giraffe looking down at me from its height.
They also have a young giraffe. I was allowed to feed it as well. Such a gentle herbivore, it could bow on command, and had a car wash brush on a pole to rub against. It delicately took vegetables and favorite cookies from my hand. I really hadn’t expected to feed this animal, and it was an extra treat.
Feeding a male Barbary lion.
Then it was time for the lion feeding. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had thought ahead of time that they might lead me into an enclosure with one of their milder beasts. I guess they thought this thing out more than I had. They put up a plastic barrier and I fed the lion through a hole with a wooden mortar. That really did make sense. These things are large predators, and they have been known to hook a claw into someone. And putting fingers near their mouths was not recommended. The keepers do it, but they are trained and know how to spot the body language signals of the lions. I fed the second of the Barbary Lion brothers, who licked it up, not missing a bit.
Don’t want to forget the girls.
As said, I was impressed by their operation, and will be making regular donations to them. There are so many rescues out there that are deserving, and I will continue to help the ones out I have already donated to. But this one, with the Barbary and MGM lions, seemed like a special cause to me. Plus, I had met these animals, which always makes them seem more real. So I will be doing what I can to help them out, and would appeal to anyone with a heart for animals, especially big cats, to do the same.
Sign at the back entrance of the Pioneer Saloon.
Then it was on to Goodsprings. I had a coupon they sent me, and wanted to see the inside of the saloon, after finding out some more about it from a, you guessed it, a Wonderhussy video. So it was onto I-15 South to get off at the Jean exit. I filmed this trip, and will be posting it on Youtube in the future. First I drove the road to Sandy Valley, a small community out in the middle of nowhere, but with some spectacular mountain scenery on the way. Then into Goodsprings. I had planned to eat in the saloon, but it was too crowded, so it was back to the all day restaurant I had eaten at twice before. I saw and talked with Johnny Utah, a young man from that state I had met there my first time through. After a good meal and some picture taking it was off to Best Buy to get a new computer.
The Carol Lombard and Clark Gable Memorial Room in the Pioneer Saloon. Gable sat in this room, drinking, while waiting to hear the fate of his wife, who had died in an airplane crash out in the desert.
Vegas has a lot of electronics stores. But Best Buy was the only one they had which I knew would also be in Tally. I wanted a machine that could be returned to them if something went screwy with it within the warranty period (unlike the last one, which died outside warranty, the bastard). I was hoping to buy a cheap notebook with a large (at least 1 TB) hard drive. No such luck, and this was just as expensive as the last. But I had it in hand, even if just to look over and save each day’s video take.
Mountains in Red Rock Canyon.
The last thing on the revised menu was Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This is a fee area, and part of the Department of the Interior. Fortunately, my National Park Pass got me in without any additional fee. I had been here before, on my first trip out west, on the day I flew back to Tally on a redeye. It was really crowded then. Still a number of people this time, on a Tuesday afternoon, but not near as crowded. The first time I had seen the place I had thought it was small, having been fooled by the way the desert air made everything seem closer. This time I knew better, and even more importantly, I knew where the restrooms were. The place is very large, big enough to swallow a moderately sized city like Tallahassee. The rock formations here are spectacular, and can be separated into several different areas of the mountains that box in this natural wonder. They continue on outside of the conservation area to backdrop the Bonnie Springs Ranch Motel. I think this is the prettiest part of the Las Vegas area, with Joshua Trees (though the ones in the conservation area seemed to have met with some kind of killer plague), cactus and roving wild horses and donkeys.
The horror of the Chollo cactus. Avoid these vegetable demons at all costs.
I pulled back into Bonnie Springs after Red Rock Canyon and went to the zoo. I had promised myself I would go there, and since I had some time, it was now. I noticed there were a lot of Cholla cactus in the nearby desert, something I had not noted before, and I was glad I hadn’t wandered out there before I knew about the horror of the desert. Called jumping cactus, they drop sections, and have a barbed thorn that will stick in your skin. People try to pry them out, only to get another set of barbs caught in their hands. They are also a terror to animals. My solution would be to kill them with fire, but then I don’t know the environmental regulations out there.
The Serville cat at the Bonnie Springs Zoo.
My room key got me into the zoo for free. It wasn’t very large, but was well attended by children and parents, and the gentler herbivores, like some of the goats and deer, were roaming free to get pets and food. There were a pair of wolves, a serval cat, and several emus. The people who started the motel and ranch had taken in animals that were no longer wanted, and the zoo began. I have donated to it (it is a nonprofit) both times I’ve been out there.
It was a great second day, and after I ate and reviewed my film I slept the sleep of the exhausted. The next day was the last that I actually had to get up at a certain time. Burgers and Bullets, which included four wheeling in the desert and shooting some automatic weapons. Little did I know what was in store for me.
Links to donate to animal rescues. There are many more, but these are some of the ones that I support. All are worthy of support by people who love big cats and other predators.
The Lion Habitat Ranch. I really like this one because of the kind of cats they keep. Lions are cool, and Barbary lions even cooler. And they have the descendent of the MGM lions.
Tiger Creek. The first big cat rescue I ever gave to, and one still close to my heart.
Tiger Haven. A very large rescue.
The Wildcat Sanctuary. Probably the largest big cat rescue in the United States. Unlike the others, they don’t have tours and the cats are not there to be looked at.
Priderock. A smallish rescue in Texas that really needs the help.