See the Dismal Conditions at The Cat House owned by Keith Evans


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LAS VEGAS — The owner of 40 lions losing their jobs at a Las Vegas Strip casino dismissed a call by an animal rights group to send them to a sanctuary instead of a Nevada ranch.

The reaction from owner Keith Evans came after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote a letter commending the MGM Grand for announcing it would close its lion habitat attraction on Jan. 31.

The glass-enclosed exhibit, which is free to the public, is being phased out as part of a $160 million renovation.

Evans is solely responsible for the care of the animals, according to MGM Grand officials. Evans told the Las Vegas Review-Journal ( ) he has held a U.S. Department of Agriculture license for keeping the lions for 40 years.

PETA officials criticized Evans for a plan to take the animals back to his eight-acre ranch, where he has said he wants to develop an attraction called “The Cat House.”

The officials said the animals wouldn’t have enough space to roam as freely as they do in the wild, and cited two lion attacks as reasons the animals shouldn’t be in direct contact with human trainers.

“In their natural habitats, lions roam many miles of territory, hunt, raise their young, and avoid contact with people,” wrote Delcianna Winders, PETA’s director of captive animal law enforcement. “It is detrimental to the mental and physical health of these animals to be confined to tiny, barren, artificial environments without any opportunity for privacy.”

Winders told the newspaper she recommended a sanctuary operated by the Galt, Calif.-based Performing Animal Welfare Society.

Evans countered that PETA has a bad track record for trying to put lions in sanctuaries. The newspaper did not provide further details.

The $9 million, 5,000-square-foot habitat opened in 1999 at the MGM. Visitors can watch the animals at play through glass on the perimeter, or from inside a glass tube that runs through the enclosure.

MGM officials said they are always looking for fresh attractions for visitors, and the attraction wasn’t the critical element of the casino’s appeal.

“It isn’t carrying the brand of the MGM Grand,” Alan Feldman, MGM Resorts International senior vice president, told the Las Vegas Sun. “The brand rests on many other attributes.”