The Las Vegas Zoo: Exotic Oasis on Rancho
Travel down Rancho Drive a few miles and you’ll find a place where a seven foot ostrich casually pokes his beak into a plastic cup of seeds held aloft by a mere six foot man. A clutch of massive eggs lays in a shallow indentation of a nest nearby.
Although the ostrich is fenced in (except for his too-tall head) peacocks, guinea fowl, and barnyard hens roam free. The seed/feed, available by handfuls for 25 cents, also attracts flocks of pigeons that gladly clean up after their more exotic cousins.
Wait a minute…weren’t you just on the Las Vegas Strip 15 minutes ago? A quick trip, due northwest, deposits tourists and locals alike to a shady three-acre oasis in the city. Its official name is The Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park, but it’s unofficially known as The Las Vegas Zoo and it is managed by the non-profit Nevada Zoological Foundation.
The zoo exhibits over 150 species of plants and animals. It is the only zoo in Las Vegas and the only year-round zoo in Nevada. Its mission statement strives “to educate and entertain the public by displaying a variety of plants and animals” and also “to assist in educating students about rare and endangered species of plants and animals, and providing information about the importance of habitat protection.”
Spring is an ideal time to visit the animals; activity is up and the heat is down.
As you enter, turtles and Chilean flamingoes share a man-made pond, full of low-lying plants and shade trees. The turtles swim or bask on logs, while the flamingoes stand at attention, sometimes hiding their faces under a wing.
Made up of delightful paths lined with tall green foliage, the zoo has a more tropical than desert appearance. Talking birds shout “hello” and “bye-bye” until you literally don’t know if you’re coming or going. Tranquil koi fish lazily swirl their tails in a separate pond, overhung with greenery.
Haughty male peacocks strut with a regal gait, some dragging their magnificent tails behind them; some are in full presentation. They know how marvelous they are and can’t wait to flaunt themselves in front of startled visitors.
Elsewhere, a cougar trots around her habitat, large and graceful and thankfully, well-fed. Odd-looking Barbary apes (the last family of the species inside the United States) favor turning their backs on curious onlookers with a nonchalance that only serves to make them seem more mysterious.
While the ostrich (sometimes it smiles!) lopes on long legs to the edge of its area to literally look down on visitors, a large desert tortoise looks up at visitors, its head low to the ground in contrast to the ostrich’s skyward height.
A goat wanders away from a petting zoo to spar with a wooden bench. This one, despite YouTube videos to the contrary, does not scream like a human. Why would he? Every day he gets stroked by countless fans and fed by an endless army of small hands.
Each twist and turn on the shady path reveals more animal delights. An enormous camera-shy lioness lounges behind a wall of bamboo. A solitary chimpanzee lazily watches the parade of primates that pass his habitat and seems amused at the sight.
In the reptile house, a formidable boa constrictor lies in coiled repose, shiny enough to give the impression of being wet, when he actually feels more like shoe leather. A Gila monster plays hide and seek behind the window of his forest-like world.
A wallaby leaps around his expansive area with impressive swiftness. A smaller species of the more familiar kangaroo, this one, fully grown, looks more like a baby, or joey, until you see the wallaby joey, about as large as a housecat.
The puma-like fossa scampers back and forth, its long whip-like rail curling around its body. The largest predator on the island of Madagascar, it was once thought to have feline characteristics until further study found it to be the largest member of the mongoose family.
Just down the path sit the King Vulture, preening itself on an eye-level perch. It has no interest in the living beings that are interested in him. He feasts, as is the vulture way, on dead meat and can live up to thirty years in captivity.
AWOL were the emus, the Chinese alligator, and the otter, but there’s no telling when they’ll get the inclination to reappear.
The zoo also features exhibits by the Las Vegas Gem Club and botanical displays of endangered cycads (seed plants characterized by a stout, woody trunks with a crown of large, hard and stiff, evergreen leaves).and rare bamboos. The layout is referred to as a natural living campus and has been an authorized activity of the Clark County School District since 1983.
Open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, this is one animal house where the whole family can discover how phenomenal our furry, feathered, and finned friends can be.
For further information:
Las Vegas Zoo
1775 N. Rancho Dr.
Las Vegas, NV 89106