by Julie Engelhardt
click images to enlarge
Kids, and adults, can view and learn about many exotic species at live animal exhibits at several Las Vegas hotels. Some are even free to visit.
Life in Las Vegas can get pretty wildyet, not many people know that there is an abundance of wildlife to be found on the Las Vegas Strip.
Several of the resorts have displays that exhibit everything from the furry to the finned, including sharks, dolphins, tropical fish, jellyfish, tigers, lions, leopards, and flamingos.
Some of these attractions are free, while others have a nominal charge. One great thing about all of these attractions is that you can stay as long as you like, or at least until closing time. The animals (and their keepers) need their shut-eye, too!
Siegfried and Roy Dolphin Encounter
and Secret Garden
One of the best known of the lot, primarily because of the popularity of the men who own it, is Siegfried and Roy Dolphin Encounter and Secret Garden at the Mirage Hotel and Casino.
The Dolphin Encounter is the first area you come to when you enter the attraction. Here you can see bottle-nosed dolphins interacting with their trainers.
The one thing they stress is that this is not a 'dolphin show,' so don't expect to see these sea mammals jumping through hoops or walking backwards, ala Flipper although you may very well see the playful animal leap out of the water. There is also a viewing area below the main seating arena that gives you a great way to observe the dolphins' underwater antics.
The main attraction at the Secret Garden is the wild cats pacing about, or just calmly lounging in one of the treetops of their enclosure. These magnificent cats include white tigers, white lions, snow leopards, and black panthers.
You are issued a wand type listening device as you enter which allows you to learn about the animals as you view each exhibit.
The Garden also houses an Asian elephant. Celebrity sightings are also common at the Secret Garden.
One day while I was there with my son, Siegfried (the blonde-haired gentleman) came out to talk with a trainer and interact with the Asian elephant.
The main purpose behind the Secret Garden is to protect and preserve these beautiful animals, and to provide education as well.
MGM Lion Habitat
If you are interested in seeing more wild cats, then the King of the Beasts can be found at the Lion Habitat inside the MGM Grand Hotel, right next to the gaming floor.
The Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand is a showcase for public education and appreciation, featuring up to six adult lions daily.
Feline expert Keith Evans, who has been training exotic animals for more than 30 years, owns the lions. They do not stay at the Habitat full time, but at a ranch 12 miles from the MGM Grand. The Habitat is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and admission is free.
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is another must-see on your safari along the Las Vegas Strip. Shark Reef features one of North America's largest displays of sharks and other sea predators.
There are more than 1,200 different species on display, including 16 different species of sharks, tropical and fresh water fish, reptiles, marine invertebrates and rays.
Much more than a conventional aquarium, Shark Reef also displays reptiles, such as golden crocodiles, and turtles. There are two walk through glass tunnels where you are surrounded by aquatic life.
The largest animals at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay are the female Sand Tiger Shark and the male Nurse Shark. The main shark tank holds approximately 1.3 million gallons of water. Listening devices similar to those at the Dolphin Encounter and Secret Garden provide interesting and educational individual narration.
There is a fee to enter Shark Reef, but if you have a friend or relative who lives in Las Vegas, and they're willing to tag along, then you can get a Nevada resident's discount.
It's best to get there at opening time or try visiting at dinner time. The popularity of this attraction can make for some very long lines and extended waiting times.
Aquariums in Las Vegas
You will find the 50,000 gallon Atlantis Aquarium, filled to the gills with 500 fish at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, by the Cheesecake Factory restaurant. Divers enter the tank at 3:15 and 7:15 p.m. daily, to feed all of those hungry mouths.
If you want a below the scenes look to see what it takes to maintain this huge aquarium, free tours are available Monday through Friday at 1:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. No reservations are needed. All you have to do is meet at the tour information sign by the aquarium. This sneak peak allows you to take an elevator ride beneath 50,000 gallons of salt water, and find out what exotic fish keep in their basement.
Tour through filtration, kitchen, ray and shark pools, as well as fish acclimation areas and see the facilities that support The Atlantis Aquarium.
A large (117,000-gallon) saltwater aquarium with 5,000 fish that also provides free shows at the Silverton Casino and Lodge at the south end of town just one block from the beginning of the Strip.
Azure features beautiful mermaids and mermen, including Olympic-medalist synchronized swimmers five days a weekno show on Monday and Tuesday. Located just a short distance from the aquarium is an unusual two lane bowling alley in an airstream trailer mock up.
If all these fish get you excited the Silverton also features a large Bass Pro Shop which perfectly complements this casino and lodge's outdoor sportsman theme.
Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo
Our tour through the jungle and the oceans wouldn't be complete without a stop at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.
Stay in the hotel or at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club at the Flamingo which offers luxury and amenities including a courtyard view of the Wildlife Habitat with its 3,000 palms and live flamingos.
One of the most popular outdoor activities at the establishment, the Wildlife Habitat is where many different species of exotic birds, fish and turtles reside.
There are numerous paths and bridges around the area, letting you get a close look at African Penguins and Chilean Flamingos. This attraction is free and open 24 hours a day.
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