RENO, NV - Along with abrupt daily changes in the weather, it's one of the signs spring is arriving in northern Nevada.
Animal Ark is preparing to open again to the public.
Sitting in a remote spot in the high desert a mile of Red Rock Road north of Reno, Animal Ark is one of the area's best, if often least visible, features.
It would be unfair to describe it as a zoo. It is a sanctuary in ever sense.
Most of its wild cats, wolves, bears and various other creatures are here because for various reasons they can't be returned to the wild.
They live out their lives in safe, spacious quarters on this sprawling campus and help raise awareness and support for efforts to preserve others.
It's has always been an impressive collection, but this year there's a new resident star at Animal Ark. His name is "El Santo."
El Santo is a 6 month old jaguar cub and star power? Let's face it, he's got the look and the cocky are-you-ready-for-me-world walk.
As well he should. He's a handsome example of a rare, endangered species, native to North and South America.
A big cat, Animal Ark's first jaguar, he's inheriting one of it's biggest, strongest enclosures. There's a reason behind that.
"They're powerful cats," says Animal Ark's Diana Hubble. "I'm told he plays with bowling balls. He's still got his baby teeth and he destroys bowling balls."
There's also a story behind that name.
El Santo was the legendary first masked Mexican Licha libre wrestler.
"He likes to wrestle a lot," says Dale Anderson of Project Survival, a sanctuary near Fresno also called Cat Haven, noting the young cat's feisty, playful personality.
El San to was born and raised at Cat Haven. He's being given to Animal Ark to continue help continue Project Survival's mission of saving big cats all over the world.
"Exposure becomes great way to make that happen," says Anderson. "To be able to have a jaguar here it exposes people to a cat we work with in the wild and we're hoping people will take an interest and help save these cats around the world."
And so, as El San to is something of an ambassador for his endangered species. It's expected as people make the journey north from U-S 395 up Red Rock Road to Animal Ark this season, they'll look into those big eyes they'll leave inspired to help save these beautiful cats in the wild.
Animal Ark opens this Saturday. Between now and October it will be open from 10am to 4:30pm daily except for Mondays.
It's located 40 minutes north of Reno. To get there take the Red Rock Road exit, turn right and drive 11 miles east to Deer Lodge Road. It's one mile up the road to Animal Ark.