Lion Habitat Ranch founder threatens euthanization in fundraising pitch

By: - August 29, 2023 2:49 pm

An animal activist is asking Attorney General Aaron Ford to investigate the organization’s fundraising practices. (Photo credit: Annoula Wylderich)

A fundraising letter from Keith Evans, the man behind Lion Habitat Ranch, says the roadside zoo in Henderson isn’t generating enough money to support the roughly 40 lions and other animals on site.  

In the lengthy, handwritten appeal, Evans says the “small fee” visitors pay “hasn’t been enough in the past few years to make ends meet. … It scares me deeply to think what might happen if I can’t afford to feed them. It’s possible they would be euthanized because they simply have nowhere else to go.”

“Dear Keith, … I can’t imagine how painful it is for you to think they may be euthanized if you can’t afford to feed them,” says a portion of the fundraising pitch to be returned with a donation

But contacted Tuesday by the Current, Evans retreated from his claim the animals are in danger of being killed. 

“We are making ends meet. We just don’t have the cushion we’d like,” he said during a phone interview. “The lions are safe.”

Evans says he has not reached out to any sanctuaries about taking the animals. 

“They’re older cats. They don’t travel well and they have medical bills,” he said. “We are maintaining them.”  

Evans created Lion Habitat Ranch and began a non-profit organization after MGM Grand discontinued its lion exhibit in 2012, putting Evans and his lions out of work. 

The organization’s tax returns indicate gross revenue of more than $2.5 million in each of the last two years, and about half a million dollars in revenue after expenses. 

Evans spent more than $66,000 on professional fundraising fees in 2022, according to the return.  

Animal activist Annoula Wylderich, who received Evans’ fundraising pitch, is asking Attorney General Aaron Ford to investigate the organization’s fundraising practices. 

“Based on the contents of the letter, I believe this organization is engaged in fraudulent fundraising practices by making provably false statements for the purpose of raising money,” she wrote to Ford. “I fully understand that fundraising letters are meant to elicit an emotional reaction and prompt donations, but a non-profit organization should not be allowed to send letters with outright lies. That is nothing but a scam.”

Evans, in his fundraising pitch, says he once turned a young lion over to another party, who allowed it to be killed for profit in a canned hunt, an event where hunters kill prey in an enclosed area, such as a ranch. Evans asks supporters to sign a petition banning canned hunts of lions in America, a practice outlawed in 2015. 

Wylderich suggests the anecdote is intended to generate fear among supporters that the lions could meet the same fate. “That’s the implication.” 

Evans acknowledged to the Current he’s aware canned lion hunts are illegal in the U.S.

Wylderich is asking Clark County to ensure the well-being of the animals.

“If Lion Habitat Ranch is desperate to feed its animals this calls for an investigation into the welfare of the lions and other animals kept there,” she wrote. “If it is necessary to move the lions, there are accredited sanctuaries available to take them in.”

The USDA, which is charged with inspecting zoos, has not noted a violation of the facility since 2014.  

In 2015, Clark County threatened to close Lion Habitat Ranch, which had more lions than permitted and was engaging in captive breeding. Evans agreed to stop breeding in order to remain open.   

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.