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MGM Grand’s lion habitat to close Jan. 31


Leila Navidi

Trainer Katie Massey plays with 8-week-old lions at the Lion Habitat at MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Friday, June 17, 2011.

Updated Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011 | 12:15 p.m.

MGM closes lion habitat

KSNV coverage of the MGM Grand lion exhibit being shut down, Dec. 28, 2011.

Map of MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

3799 Las Vegas Boulevard S., Las Vegas

The MGM Grand is losing its lions. Resort officials announced Wednesday the property’s iconic lion habitat will close permanently Jan. 31.

“That is part of an overall property-wide renovation project,” MGM Resorts spokeswoman Yvette Monet said. “There are going to be significant changes in the casino and hotel.”

MGM officials would not say what will replace the $9 million, 5,000-square-foot, glass-encased structure.

“We’re always assessing our properties to determine how we can provide a new and fresh product to our customers,” Monet said.

MGM Resorts in October began a $160 million remodel of the MGM Grand. Each of the main tower’s 3,570 hotel rooms and 642 suites will receive a makeover, and operators plan to overhaul the property’s casino floor, restaurants, clubs and showrooms. The project is expected to take about a year.

The lion habitat opened in 1999. Twenty lions rotate in and out of the exhibit, where they nap, wrestle and play. Visitors can view them from the perimeter of the habitat or through a glass tunnel that cuts through the exhibit. The free attraction is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Come February, the out-of-work lions will return to The Cat House, an 8.5-acre ranch outside Las Vegas where they live with trainer and habitat designer Keith Evans. He cares for 40 lions that have appeared at the hotel at some point in their lives.

Monet said there are no plans to return the lions to a different part of the MGM Grand.

Evans said he found out that the habitat was closing through an email. His contract with the hotel group was due to expire in 2009 but had been extended several times.

“We were just caught off guard,” he said. “I never understand corporate thinking. The lion is the hotel’s logo, but times change I guess, and we’re a free show.”

Evans plans to open The Cat House to the public or to private tour groups. He has received the permits he needs but is still working out operating details.

“To have it open daily requires more employees,” said Evans, who cares for the lions with his wife and 14 workers. “But if you don’t have enough tourists, then it’s an even bigger hit financially.”

As it stands, Evans said, he may have to downsize his operation and let some employees go now that he has lost his contract with MGM. He no longer needs workers to transport the animals to and from the Strip.

The lion has been a part of MGM’s brand for decades, and Evans’ lions are reportedly descendants of Leo, the most recent lion mascot used by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

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  1. What a great shame, always pulled in plenty of people to the MGM. Good luck to all the staff involved.
    Perhaps they can now also update their room offers. We booked a deal only to find they changed it after we had booked it, and they did not honour it when we arrived.
    Wont stay there again

  2. Good deal. Exotic annimals were not put here to do tricks for our entertainment. Same goes for the circus!!

  3. Sad news, hate to see the lion habitat close. Shame on you MGM.

  4. Yep, I agree it's very sad. Too bad they couldn't have given the owner more notice.

    Summerof69 - who said they weren't 'put here' for our entertainment? I'm not a bible thumper or anything like that but doesn't it say something about about man's dominion over animals and to use them as you see fit?

    I'd rather be entertained by them than eat them, but of course, I will eat them too.

  5. That is a real shame. The lions are a huge draw for the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas. We always make sure we make time to visit the hotel to see them. The animals always appear to be well cared for and the enclosure is great for them. I wish Keith Evans luck with his future endeavours.


  7. Exotic animals were not put here to be poached either. Lions in the wild will be extinct within two decades. Best regards for future success to the trainer and sanctuary.

  8. There goes my primary reason for visiting MGM. Seriously, the lion habitat is that important to me. The rest of what MGM offers can be seen at any other casino on The Strip.

  9. Wishing Keith Evans, his wife, and his workers the very best. Their love and dedication in working with these noble beasts, the legendary lions, have graced and blessed the Las Vegas Strip and community with wholesome entertainment for an unheard of 12 years! It is a comfort to hear that they plan to continue the lion habitat at their private reserve, so that both locals and travelers can again enjoy the lions.

    Thank you MGM for having this habitat for such a long time and offering it for free. The smiles on the faces and joy in the hearts, are a part of "the best things that are free". How you are going to make up for this loss will be of interest.

    Blessings and Peace,

  10. Too bad we could not just send the lions back to their real home. Exotic animals just do not need to live in the desert where they can survive and possibly get lose and cause terror for many years to come.

    Where would you want to be? Home or in a jail like cage for all your life. We are such cruel people taking these animals from their real home and put them in cages.

  11. I do not get the thinking on this either by the MGM brain trust. I suppose it comes down to $$$ but their reputation will suffer. I hope everyone supports the wildlife habitat for the lions sake.

  12. Awwww...what a shame. I loved it too.

  13. This is such great news for the animals! Note that they are admitting to there being 40 lions warehoused out in the desert as the result of their breeding for photo ops. I had been told there were 60 a couple years ago which begs the question as to where the rest are now. Cubs can only be used for petting session between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks. Then there is no legitimate use for them, yet they can live 20 years. We need to close this cub petting loophole so that more lions are not bred for this purpose at Keith Evans' Cat House. The money raised from cub petting is never enough to provide life time care for that cat.

  14. Stupidity. What's next? The dolphins at the Mirage?

  15. Just curious how much those who are unhappy to see the lions leave gamble/loose every time you visit for free?

  16. News flash from the resident MBA.... the Lion Habitat is not a profit center, get rid of it. Now, where is my annual performance bonus!

  17. Big Cat Rescue = extinction for all big cats!
    Funny how BCR believes they are the only ones who can care for big cats and want to close down everyone else. They charge people to see their cats, double standard at best. A lot of the cats there were Carole's pets, on the tour they say the cats had been pets but don't tell who's. The cages are dismal and only cleaned with a long pole,(I was told that is all that is needed)
    It is sad but the wild is no longer safe or is just non-existent. Lions in the wild will be extinct within a few years.
    Best wishes to Keith Evans' Cat House don't let people like BCR get to you. Responsible breeders are needed!

  18. As long as they don't get rid of my favorite free attraction, the silicone breast implants on the coctail servers

  19. So we just dump them at some rescue? Has anyone called a fricking zoo to see if they had a suitable habitat? San Diego Zoo comes to mind.

  20. I'm sorry to see them go. I was looking forward to bringing my granddaughter to see them when she got older. The lions will be missed. I think MGM is making a mistake with this one.

  21. Well I'll cross MGM of my list, Hope some of the
    sanctuary's have room for them? That's where there
    all going to end up. As always.

  22. This is great news for the cats! They get out of that stupid, little glass prison they were in. Now lets replace it by putting all the MGM Mirage executives in there - free viewing hours between 11 am and 7 pm. They will be forced to sit in there and have people oggle at them through the glass. Business attire is required.

    Look, MGM Mirage is ALL about the money. That is all that matters to them. That was a free attraction - enough said. I could care less about that company. I don't give them one penny of my hard earned money. I love animals though.

  23. If Las Vegas were a Real City we would have a Real Zoo that would be much more protective and humane to animals than these Circus Side Shows. The MGM is an Old and Dated property for wich there are very few, if any reasons to visit. Anyone want to Bet that these Casino Geniuses will have anything New and Exiting that will make the MGM a Must Stop Destination?
    Las Vegas is lacking on many of the amenities that make a City a City. However a Great Job by Mayor Goodman for realizing The Smith Center, which will be a great addition and make the city less Casino Centric.

  24. Having invested in businesses, some which were successful, some that failed, I can see where Lambert has no such background. It's easy for him to spend other peoples money, isn't it? If Lambert thinks LV is lacking amenities, why doesn't he get off the couch and put his money where his mouth is? Got such great ideas, Lambert? Invest in them and see what that gets you.

  25. Although not a fan of animals in captivity often this is the only chance for children to see these magnificent animals and for the parents to explain why these animals need to be saved in the wild. It's a shame that in a town without a worthwhile zoo that this exhibit is closing.

  26. The zoo out by Red Rock is pretty cool, Bonnie Springs