Animal Behavior

Tell your clients about Las Vegas’ real wild side

By: Ryan Slattery

Las Vegas has a wild side. No, this time we’re not talking about the city’s nightclub scene or those “What happens here, stays here” advertisements pitching the city’s anything-goes attitude, this is about fur and feathers, claws and critters. Animals have found a home here in the Las Vegas desert, and there is more to be seen than most people realize. Those looking to get really wild should explore the following spots where you’ll find sharks, dolphins, white tigers, lions, Chilean flamingos, African penguins and more.

Perhaps the most impressive of all Las Vegas’ wildlife exhibits is Mandalay Bay Shark Reef, an attraction which features 1,200 different aquatic species, including 15 different species of sharks, tropical and freshwater fish, sea turtles, crocodiles and rays all swimming in a 2 million-gallon aquarium.

Visitors entering Shark Reef will find that the setting resembles an ancient temple ruin with a sunken galleon ship. The exhibit is home to several endangered golden crocodiles the only ones to exist in the Western Hemisphere. Other exhibits include a touch pool area the kids will love and a look at that famous Amazon predator, the piranha.

But there’s a reason it’s named Shark Reef, and in a massive tank visitors come eyeball to eyeball with several different shark species, including blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, bonnetheads and nurse, sand tiger and zebra sharks to name just a few.

If sharks scare you a bit and dolphins are more to your liking check out Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage. The Dolphin Habitat is designed to be not only entertaining but educational. The exhibit even includes a video of a dolphin named Squirt being born. The habitat is a research facility, so trainers are on hand to answer questions, and the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins do perform some tricks during set exercise periods, but don’t expect elaborate shows.

The facility holds 2.5 million gallons of water and includes a 22-foot-deep viewing tank, with both an outdoor and underground viewing area. The Secret Garden houses white tigers, white lions, black panthers, a snow leopard, golden tigers and a four-ton Asian elephant named Gildah.

Down the road, the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat contains 15 acres of tropical gardens right next to the resort’s pool complex. It holds more than 300 bird species including, you guessed it, Chilean flamingos. But you’ll also find African penguins, silver pheasants, swans, ducks, a koi pond and turtles on the grounds.

Longtime Las Vegas visitors may remember the days when you had to walk under a lounging lion to enter the MGM Grand. The entrance was later reconfigured and a huge bronze statue was erected on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana when casino executives realized that, in some cultures, the entry was considered bad luck.

However, the MGM lion is still a mainstay at the property and guests can see the real thing at the resort’s Lion Habitat. Here several African lions and their cubs are rotated in and out of a glass habitat with 35-foot-tall walls. Throughout the day, trainer’s play with the animals, but chances are you’ll find the 500-pound beasts snoozing. Lions sleep an average of 18 to 20 hours a day.

Las Vegas may lack a major metropolitan zoo, but the Southern Nevada Zoological Botanical Park has some rather unique animals for its size. The three-acre park has more than 200 species of plants and animals. Visitors are often surprised to find a family of Barbary apes living in the complex, but they’re not alone; chimpanzees, eagles, ostriches, emus, talking parrots, wallabies, flamingos and every species of venomous reptile native to southern Nevada call the small park home.

So the next time a client is planning a visit to Las Vegas don’t forget to mention the city’s truly wild side.


Flamingo Wildlife Habitat
Mandalay Bay Shark Reef
MGM Grand Lion Habitat
Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage
Southern Nevada Zoological Botanical Park