Cheetahs, tigers & bears — in Reno? Paws & Claws Gala on Sunday benefits Animal Ark wildlife sanctuary |

Cheetahs, tigers & bears — in Reno? Paws & Claws Gala on Sunday benefits Animal Ark wildlife sanctuary

Cassandra Walker |

Reno is home to tigers, cheetahs, bears, wolves, birds of prey, big cats, and many other species that live at Animal Ark wildlife sanctuary and education center.

“Our mission is to inspire environmental stewardship through education,” said co-founder and executive director, Aaron Hiibel.

To support this mission, Animal Ark hosts their signature annual event, the Paws & Claws Gala, which falls on Sunday, Sept. 24.

“Animals come to the Ark from disadvantaged situations, and they can’t be released back into the wild. While they’re here they serve as ambassadors for their species back in the wild,” he added.

The sanctuary operates on 38 acres of land where guests can meander through walking trails, and appreciate various enclosures of a wide range of native North American predators and a few exotic species.

Peering through fences, children and adults alike delight in catching glimpses of perfectly camouflaged big cats, seeing foxes napping in the sunshine and hearing squawking birds of prey.

Paws & Claws Gala welcomes visitors to Animal Ark for an evening of viewing wildlife species, enjoying themed hors d’oeuvres, and meeting the animal experts. In between, appreciating amazing species guests will enjoy an open bar, plated dinner and auctions both silent and live.

“At the end of the evening we have our highlight event, the Cheetah Run,” Hiibel explained.

“That really is a sight to see, as the sun sets we’re running the cheetahs off-leash and they are reaching about 55 miles per hour. Cheetahs can run up to 70 miles per hour, but the uphill course at the Ark and our high elevation in Reno keeps them at around 55 — it’s truly something you have to see to believe,” he added.

Animal Ark relies on public support and wants to celebrate with the community during Paws & Claws, which gives people the opportunity to see the sanctuary, enjoy delicious food and a great atmosphere in the spirit of environmental stewardship.

“We’re an educational facility, and that’s the key to everything going on in the world, education. We’re here to take care of these animals and give them a permanent home for the rest of their lives. If we weren’t here the animals would be euthanized, because there aren’t many facilities that are able to care for them,” Hiibel said.

Each of the animals has a unique story as to how they ended up at Animal Ark, and are fortunate to be in the care of these animal experts.

In addition to Paws & Claws, Animal Ark will host two events in October: the Harvest Festival on Oct. 14, and the final Cheetah Run of the season on Oct. 21.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.

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