The MGM Grand lions were once as prized on the Las Vegas Strip as a visit from Paris Hilton -– sightings of either one provided tourists with an only-in-Vegas moment. The few dozen lions were probably as pampered as the wealthy socialite, and they arguably worked more frequently.
The lions lived on an 8.5-acre ranch named The Cat House -- not to be confused with Cathouse, a nightclub at the Luxor hotel -- where they snacked on horse leg bones and steaks and were trained as cubs to tolerate their own version of paparazzi. Some were said to be descendants of Leo, the original Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion.
At least once a week since 1999, the lions were loaded into transport cages and driven to the Strip, where their golden manes were shampooed and blow-dried before their star turn. They spent hours in a $9-million, 5,000-square-foot glass habitat, so enamored with the attention that it was sometimes hard to get them to leave.
The animals even had a trust fund of sorts, a 2008 Times story said. MGM Grand managed a 401(k) for them, which would pay for food and trainers if their owner, Keith Evans, no longer could. A few years ago, the account held $1.6 million.
The lion habitat will permanently close Jan. 31, the Las Vegas Sun reported Wednesday. A spokeswoman for MGM Resorts International, which owns the hotel, said the closure is part of “significant changes” planned for the massive property, which has a giant lion statue on Las Vegas Boulevard.
MGM Resorts, along with other major casino companies, remains financially bruised from the recession, though in recent months tourism here has somewhat steadied. “The lion is the hotel’s logo,” owner Evans told the Sun, “but times change I guess, and we’re a free show.”
--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas
Photo: Tourists catch a big cat resting in the soundproof lion habitat at the MGM Grand hotel-casino. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times