Animal Ark provides safe haven for wild animals |

Animal Ark provides safe haven for wild animals

Cheetah Run
Susan Koppel |

Imagine a place where injured, abandoned or unwanted animals not only survive, but thrive. A place where cheetahs run, wolves howl, hawks soar and bears play.

Located on 38 acres just north of Reno lies the Animal Ark, a wildlife sanctuary and education center that has been providing a safe haven for injured, abandoned or non-releasable wildlife since 1981.

Animal Ark Co-Founder and Executive Director Aaron Hiibel and his wife, Diana, who is co-founder and programs manager, along with a network of more than 50 volunteers and six paid staff, care for up to 25 species of animals at a time.

Situated away from residential neighborhoods and the bustling of downtown Reno, Animal Ark is a non-profit 501(c)(3) that takes in wild animals that, for a variety of reasons, are not capable of surviving in the wild on their own. Animal Ark rescues many of the animals that have been kept as exotic pets, have been separated from their mothers or have lost respect for humans and boundaries and would otherwise be euthanized.

Paws & Claws

Among the most popular ways the public gets to know the animals of the Animal Ark is through events like the Cheetah Runs, where the Animal Ark’s cheetahs, Moyo and Jamar, run at top speeds off-leash around the facility’s run field.

The next cheetah run will be held during Animal Ark’s fall fundraising event, Paws & Claws, on Sunday, Sept. 25 from 1:30 to 6 p.m. Attendees will have the chance to see the animals that call the sanctuary home, interact with wildlife experts and enjoy cocktails, dinner from Pockets Grill, and desserts from the Eldorado Resort Casino. There’s also live music, door prizes and a live and silent auction.

Tickets are $125 for individuals or $1,150 for a table of 10. VIP Tickets, which give attendees the opportunity to interact and take photos with birds of prey, are available for $200.

Ticket sales from Paws & Claws helps the Animal Ark raise funds to continue to inspire environmental stewardship through wildlife education. Sponsors of the event include Total Wine & More, Eldorado Resort & Casino, Hyatt Tahoe Regency Resort and Bauserman Group.

For more information on Animal Ark or to purchase tickets for Paws & Claws, visit, email, or call 775-970-3111.


In addition to providing a sanctuary for non-releasable animals, Animal Ark has spearheaded various wildlife conservation programs, including a bear rehabilitation center where the region’s black bears in need of care are nursed back to health and re-released into the wild.

That’s the plan for four orphaned cubs that arrived at Animal Ark this spring after their mother was found deceased in the Tahoe Basin. The two males and two females only weighed about eight pounds each, and were about 14 weeks old. They would not have survived without their mother.

“The cubs are six months old now, growing like crazy,” said Diana. “They have quadrupled their weight, from about eight pounds when they arrived, to about 35 pounds each.”

The cubs’ diet mimics as close as possible what they may eat in the wild: venison, trout, fruit, pine nuts, berries and insects. Feeding these bears is very expensive, running as high as $100 per bear per week in the fall leading up to hibernation.

“In addition to their food cost, they are outgrowing their enclosure, and we are having to add additional space,” Aaron said. “We really count on our donors and supporters of the Care4Bears program so we can continue this important work.”

In late fall the bears will go into hibernation, then in January or February they will be immobilized, have an examination and be released into dens in the high Sierra.

“Transport to the release site will by snowmobile or helicopter. So when they wake up in the spring they will be in their new home territory and on their way to becoming wild bears,” Aaron said.

Thanks to its Board of Directors, partners and affiliates, supporters and volunteers, Animal Ark has experienced more than three decades providing a safe sanctuary for wildlife in need, saving unwanted wild animals from being euthanized and educating the community on the importance of wildlife conservation for the long-term survival of the world’s most blessed creatures.


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