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Monday, April 18, 2016

Up close and personal at the Animal Ark in Reno, Nevada



Heading north through Virginia City, C Street turns into NV-341 and winds through the mountains similar to a drive to Big Bear. Once through the mountains, a valley opens up with civilization of Sparks and Reno, NV.

  • Travel Tip: During the spring, you might still need chains as it may snow on NV-341 mountain pass. Be prepared to use snow chains and watch for black ice.


As you head north on the US-395, you will pass through Sparks and downtown Reno. In the rural and outlying area of Reno is the home of the Animal Ark. It is a wildlife sanctuary and nature center. They commit their time to wildlife education, animal care, and conservation. Founders Aaron and Diane Hiibel, started it as a safe haven for injured, abandoned, and non-releasable wildlife in 1981. Their philosophy is that each animal is taken in to provide a home for life, if they are unable to be released back into their natural habitat. Animal Ark has Mother Nature’s help to provide energy to the property. They have been off-grid since 1981 through the use of solar panels and wind turbines to produce 11,500 watts of electricity to power all of their electrical appliances, from lightbulbs to refrigerators. Large storage batteries store electricity for the evenings and cloudy skies.


  • Travel tip: Wear comfortable shoes. The one mile trail to see the animals is made of compact dirt and decomposed granite (DG). Golf carts are available for a donation for those unable to hike the trail. Strollers are allowed but small-wheeled strollers may have a problem rolling on the dirt and DG.


First stop was to see Moyo and Jamar, two male cheetahs (scientific name: Acinonyx jubatus) born in Cape Town, South Africa on June 19, 2005. They are ambassadors for the De Wildt Cheetah Centre and Wildlife Trust. They have partnered up with Animal Ark to help raise funds for wild cheetah conservation and also research into the benefits of high speed running for captive cheetahs. You can tell that the Animal Ark takes really good care of them. Their coats are full and brilliant with color. They are also highly alert and active.

Second stop was to see C.J., a female Canada lynx (scientific name: Lynx canadensis) born sometime in 2000. Her rescue was a dire one as she was being sold and if a buyer could not be found, she was going to be killed for her pelt. The American Sanctuary Association contacted Animal Ark to see if they could help to save her life. The owner would not donate the lynx but would accept a purchase price that he could have received for her pelt. A private donation saved C.J.’s life and she came to Animal Ark in February 2012 in poor health: chronic ear-mite infections, lung infection, malnourished, short, thin fur coat, and limited eye sight. But she has made amazing strides now that she has great caretakers and a healthy, nutritious diet. She now has a beautiful, thick coat and her ears are perked up with the black tips. What will amaze you the most is how big her paws are. She’s a beauty!

Third stop was to see Keira, a female Kit Fox (scientific name: Vulpes macrotis) born sometime in the spring of 2010. She was only 6 weeks old when a golden eagle caught and then dropped her severely injuring her leg. Due to this disability, Keira was not releasable back to the wild, so Animal Ark gave her a new home on July 16, 2010. Kit foxes are native to Nevada and have a keen adaptability to desert life via use of large ears, agility, and small size. On this cold morning, she was comfortably bundled up under a tree.

Fourth stop was to see Koda, a male Arctic Fox (scientific name: Vulpes lagopus) born sometime in the spring of 2014. He was sold on Craigslist as a pet when he was four months old. His new owners found it too hard to care for a wild animal and surrendered him to California Department of Fish and Wildlife who placed him with the California Wildlife Center (CWC) in Calabasas, CA. After two months and permissions from four different agencies to transfer Koda across stateliness, he had a new home at the Animal Ark. You can tell that he’s been around people since he was little. He acts like a dog - loves people and loves to play. But, you need to realize that he is not a dog and not domesticated. Even though he will have a wonderful life here at the Animal Ark, it’s a little sad that he never got to experience his native habitat.

Fifth stop was to see El Santo, a male jaguar (scientific name: Panthera onca) born on October 7, 2011. He was donated to Animal Ark by Project Survival’s Cat Haven. They help raise awareness of this endangered jaguar and also support wild cat awareness, research, and conservation. The jaguar is the largest cat found in the Americas from southwestern US to the tip of South America. The Animal Ark is probably one of the only opportunities to see a jaguar up close without chain-linked fences impeding your view. El Santo is just beautiful and majestic.

Sixth stop was to see Milo, a male mountain lion (scientific name: Puma concolor) born sometime in June 2007. At 7 months of age, he was hit by a car near Lake Tahoe in February 2008. The stars must have been aligned for him as a concerned driver came back to help, a snow plow helped to shield the kitten from other oncoming vehicles, and Carl Lackey, a Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist just happened to be driving by. Milo had a serious fracture of the femur and pelvic injuries. Orthopedic surgery was performed by Dr. Dearmin and Milo was transferred to Animal Ark a few days later. In two days, he began to eat and became mobile. Since there was no way to reunite Milo with his mother, he is now the ambassador for the mountain lions, the largest carnivore in Nevada. His full name Milagro means miracle in Spanish. He’s definitely one lucky mountain lion!

Final stop was to see Beatrix, a.k.a. Trixie, a female American badger (scientific name: Taxidea taxus) born sometime in the summer 2007. She had been struck by a car at Harmon Junction and sustained severe head trauma. She received excellent care and rehabilitation, but it seemed that she still suffered from some neurological problems which caused lack of control in her left rear paw. Since she was not able to be released back into the wild, she became the first badger to call the Animal Ark home on April 11, 2008. She was happily digging inside her enclosure on this cold March morning, but managed to take a quick break to peek her head out for a little bit of sunlight and photo-op. She was just too happy with her digging project.  

If you are in the Reno area and looking for something to do other than gambling all of your money away, make plans to visit the Animal Ark.

For more information:
Animal Ark
1265 Deerlodge Rd.
Reno, NV 89508
+1.775.970.3111
Parking: Free parking in lot
Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday (March 28 through November 1, 2016) from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed on Mondays.
Admission: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors (62+), $6.50 for children (3-12), Children 2 and under are FREE

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