HENDERSON - Keith Evans is king of the jungle called the Lion Habitat Ranch. The six and a half acre ranch – which sits ten miles south of the Las Vegas Strip – houses forty big cats. Miles of open desert help insulate the habitat from nearby homes.
Keith and wife Beverly have hand-raised three generations of cats that were originally sired by parents Sugar and Baby. The parents are gone, but not forgotten. The Evans' relationship with their beastly kids might seem unnatural for some people, but not for them.
"They treat us with respect, and we treat them the same way," Keith said. "They are our children. It's seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This is what I know how to do."
For years, Keith and the cats made a good living showing off their pride at the MGM Grand's Lion Habitat attraction. That contract ended in January, but it's easy to see the former stars of the Strip are still living a pampered life.
"They're hand-fed. They've got fresh water every day. They've got air-conditioned boxes, heated boxes for the winter, shade. They come out and play," Keith said. "We enrich them every day with a toy. They get a bath, get blown dry with shampoo and conditioner. So, there's not much they're missing, and they don't have the threat of somebody shooting them in the wild."
Keith would like to use his semi-retired partners as poster cats for their wild counterparts. He wants to show the cats doing what they do best - being themselves at home with their doting human parents and letting the public get close again, so they can appreciate these beautiful creatures and help keep them alive.
"I want somebody to come up and see how much love they'll give to us as humans, educate themselves and then go donate to causes to protect them in the wild," Keith said. "If you don't love them, you're not going to protect them."
The habitat is open for private tours and a unique experience called "Trainer for a Day." 8 News NOW will have more on that experience Tuesday.