SHARKS IN LAS VEGAS
When he isn’t caring for the dogs and cats of some of Las Vegas’s wealthiest
pet owners, you might
find Jerry Pribyl sitting at the bottom
of a 25-foot-deep shark tank.
From that vantage point in the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Pribyl not only enjoys watching the interaction among the reef sharks and other predators, but he’s also learned to spot early signs of disease.
Pribyl (’80 DVM) is a veterinarian whose curiosity and interest in exotic species has led him to branch out –
way out – from the dogs, cats, and rabbits of his two small-animal clinics in
Las Vegas (the Gentle Doctor and South Shores Animal Hospitals) into aquatic and desert-dwelling creatures.
His veterinary skills have been put to use at the Shark Reef since 2000 and more recently at Springs Preserve, a Mojave Desert exhibit in Las Vegas that features rabbits, foxes, bats, lizards, snakes, desert tortoises, tarantulas,
But it’s the Shark Reef that fuels Pribyl’s passion for adventure (he says to draw blood from a shark, “It’s a rodeo; it’s like the wild west.”) Beginning with “zero” experience with marine animals – growing up in the Midwest, he says this was the last thing he ever thought he’d be doing – Pribyl first took scuba-diving lessons and then studied with a veterinarian from San Diego Sea World.
“This is a very unique opportunity to blaze a trail,” Pribyl explains as he dines on a Mediterranean salad at a crowded restaurant near Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip. “There’s not a lot of literature. My passion is the large sharks. They say that cancer doesn’t happen in sharks, but we have diagnosed cancer in a shark. We have one shark with a liver problem. We’ve seen a lot of unique things.”
At the Shark Reef, Pribyl works with crocodiles, monitors, sea turtles, stingrays, piranhas, reef sharks, lionfish, eels, jellyfish, sawfish, clownfish, nurse sharks – more than 2,000 total animals in 1.6 million gallons of seawater. Many of the species live together without incident because, Pribyl explains, they only eat when they’re hungry. And they’re very well fed.
The aquarium at Mandalay Bay is unique for several reasons. It was the largest inland aquarium in the U.S.
until recently, when the Georgia Aquarium opened in Atlanta. It’s the first Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facility in Nevada and also the first in a casino.
“When you associate an aquarium with a casino, there can be some negative connotations,” Pribyl says. “But every step of the way, I can tell you,
they put the animals first.”
Pribyl says his biggest challenge now is time. He has expanded the size of his staff, but it’s still not easy managing two busy small-animal hospitals with the exotic animal practices on the side. He says he does it because he loves it.
“Isn’t this cool?” he says, walking through one of the aquarium’s saltwater exhibits. “I love this place. This doesn’t feel like work.”
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