In many respects, strolling around the Las Vegas Strip during peak hours is almost like visiting a zoo for humans. Everywhere you look, you’ll find folks from every conceivable walk of life demonstrating their natural, and not-so-natural, behaviors.
Like big-time businesspeople betting big bucks, you’ll see denizens of the night peddling their wares street-side and wide-eyed tourists simply taking it all in.
Plenty of opportunities for people-watching await in Sin City, but did you know the world’s gambling capital is also a hotspot for exotic wildlife?
During your next trip to the greatest town around, make sure to carve out a little time to see the cool animal attractions described below.
Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage
For lifelong fans of the Las Vegas scene, the city is defined by its world-class shows and entertainment as much as it is casino gambling. Indeed, a visitor in the know could spend a week straight here, smiling all the while, even without placing a single wager.
Back in the ‘60s, the local spotlight was dominated by icons like Frank Sinatra and his “Rat Pack” crew. But by the 1990s, Siegfried and Roy were the reigning superstars supreme. Part magic show, part African safari, and all amazing from start to finish, Siegfried and Roy’s famed show at the Mirage Resort & Casino centered around carefully choreographed interactions with enormous lions and tigers.
Guests and visitors at the Mirage can spend an afternoon at the Siegfried and Roy Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat to frolic with the sea’s most intelligent aquatic mammal. Guided by a well-trained team of dolphin experts, these astounding creatures run through a series of moves in a massive saltwater pool.
You’ll see dolphins just a few feet away surging through the water at high speeds, jumping skyward and somersaulting back into the water, and squealing with their signature “smiles.”
Adults pay $25 per ticket, while children cost $19, but the price of admission is well worth it. Rather than limit a guest’s experience to scheduled showtimes, the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat is a more casual, freeform affair. After watching the dolphins do their routine, you’re free to explore exhibits explaining the creature’s behavioral traits, underwater abilities, and personal backgrounds.
For those willing to pay an enhanced $75 fee, you’ll also be treated to an immersive period of direct interaction with the dolphins. I’m talking about petting, feeding, and even having a painting made by one of the more artistically inclined dolphins—the whole nine yards.
From there, be sure to head over to the Secret Garden area, where many of Siegfried and Roy’s favorite felines can be found. You’ll see the pair’s famous white tigers, huge male lions with regal manes, and leopards strutting their stuff.
In an interview with Vegas.com, Dave Blasko—who serves as the director of animal care at the Mirage—praised the captive big cats as premium Las Vegas attractions:
“These are some of the most impressive cats I’ve ever seen. People come from all over the world to see them.”
For more information on this legendary wildlife exhibit on the Las Vegas Strip, head here to the Mirage’s attraction page.
The Tortoise Habitat at Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center
If your home state doesn’t have an official reptile, you’re missing out. Here in Nevada, our official state reptile is the Mojave Desert tortoise, a slow but steady sweetheart which can live for more than 50 years.
Mojave desert tortoises used to be frequent sights for residents with desert frontage, but their numbers are sadly dwindling as development swallows the surrounding desert sands. Thankfully, the fine folks at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area are living up to their name by carving out a protected area for these beloved animals.
Every day between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm local time, you can check out the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center to meet one of the nine tortoises which call this place home. In particular, every tortoise—Betty, Max, Roxie, Mae, Hugo, Lucie, Shelby, Willie, and Libby—has its own story to be told by the team of preservationists.
The team here recommends showing up in the early morning hours for your best shot at catching the tortoises roaming and munching vegetables. And once you’ve taken photos and learned about the exhibit, feel free to take the scenic two-mile roundtrip hike around Moenkopi Loop.
To learn more about the Tortoise Habitat, check out the Visitor Center’s dedicated exhibit page here.
The Lion Habitat Ranch South of the South Point
The Mirage isn’t the only place in town where animal kingdom royalty can be seen up close.
When the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino discontinued its own lion exhibits back in 2012, the animals found a new home a few miles south at the Lion Habitat Ranch. To get here, take the I-15 South until you reach the South Point casino resort, then hook eastbound on Bruner Avenue until you see lion cub adorned signage.
More akin to a full-fledged zoo than the casino-based exhibits above, the Lion Habitat Ranch offers a slew of interactive experiences for guests to enjoy. Taking a “Behind the Scenes” tour lets you see how the staff carefully manages and cares for such enormous, and potentially dangerous, predators.
Speaking of predation, you can also splurge on the “Feasts With the Beasts” private party experience. Here, you and your group sit down to enjoy a leisurely lunch within a special glass-enclosed chamber. And all around you are hungry lions who are eyeing their next meal, too.
If you actually want to watch the lions devour a hunk of raw meat, “Feed the Animals” delivers exactly what it promises. You’ll get to toss chunks of bloody meat directly to lions stalking the grounds below. For vegetarians, an alternative exists thanks to “Ozzie,” a 16-year old giraffe who loves to pluck carrots and other veggies straight from visitors’ hands.
Prices and time windows vary depending on your experience of choice, so you can check out the ticket pricing structures.
Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay
As the only facility in all of Nevada approved by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay is a bona fide aquatic wonderland.
The main tank itself holds over 1.3 million gallons of water, making it one of the largest aquariums anywhere in North America. Inside the tank swim thousands of animals, including sharks, giant manta rays, green sea turtles, and even piranha.
Other attractions at the Shark Reef Aquarium include a pair of 360-degree immersive virtual reality films, a stingray feeding pool for the kiddos, and even swimming with the sharks (for certified divers only).
For full information on pricing plans and reopening dates, head here to the Mandalay Bay’s website.
The Flamingo Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo
While certainly not the flashiest entry on this list, the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat, housed within the eponymous Flamingo Hotel & Casino will always be one of my favorites.
Stretching over 15 acres inside the Flamingo itself, the Wildlife Habitat serves as the home base for a flock of gorgeous pink Chilean flamingos. These utterly unique birds roam freely throughout the area, wading in pools specially designed to simulate their natural habitat.
Along with the flamingos themselves, expect to see other flora and fauna such as pelicans, turtles, and fish as you meander through the lush and lavish environment.
Speaking personally, there’s just something special about leaving the dry heat and neon lights of The Strip behind briefly for an escape into “nature.” The cool air, splashing waterfalls, and perpetual birdsong combine to whisk gamblers away from Sin City to their own private oasis.
Our Final Thoughts on These Cool Attractions
Let’s face facts, Las Vegas isn’t exactly renowned for its assortment of wildlife wonders. Sure, you’ll occasionally see herds of Bighorn Sheep out near Henderson and beyond, but the Strip is nominally the domain of humankind, not the animal kingdom.
Fortunately, a few enterprising casino operators realized that people are always happy to engage in encounters with exotic animals when they’re properly cared for. The next time you’re in town to gamble and get crazy, do yourself a favor and take a day to tour a few of the animal attractions listed here.