Lion Country Safari

Lion Country Safari

Before the 60s, if you wanted to see wild animals in their natural habitat, free from the confining cages of a local zoo, you had to travel to an exotic locale. That is, until a group of entrepreneurs had a grand idea; a drive-through zoo! Lion Country Safari proved that a family could have a great time sitting in the comfort of their car While viewing man eating-lions, graceful giraffes, and grumpy rhinos through the relative safety of an automobile windshield.

Lion Country Safari first opened in Loxahatchee, Florida in 1967 as the world’s first cage-less zoo. In 1970, the Southern California version opened in the city of Irvine, and later versions opened in Texas, Georgia, and Ohio. Each provided miles of road that visitors could drive along, affording them close-up views of animals such as lions, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, ostriches and gazelles, all free to roam in their respective areas.

Sometimes the animals could be seen lazily slumbering in the grass. Other times, the animals preferred a more interactive approach with the guests; blocking roadways, removing car antennas, and licking their lips at the prospect that some goofy tourist might ignore the warnings and roll their window down or, dare say, open the door.

Lion Country Safari started out as strictly a drive-through attraction, but later added rides, shows, and a petting zoo to help boost attendance. The California park was also once home to a beloved lion by the name of Frazier. It seemed that Frazier, despite his old age, was rather amorous with the ladies. He managed to sire 33 cubs during his two-year residence, creating quite the media stir, and became somewhat of a local folk hero until he eventually passed away in 1972.

Due to declining attendance, most of the Lion Country Safari locations were closed in 1984. The west-coast park was replaced with a water park called “Raging Waters.” A day camp for children also occupied the land. Once affectionately known as “Camp Frazier,” it was eventually renamed “Camp James” (Sorry, big guy) before closing for good a few years ago.

Sadly, Florida’s Lion Country Safari is the only park that remains open today. Parks such as San Diego’s Wild Animal Park and Disney’s Animal Adventure have stepped in to fill the void. Still, neither offers the unique thrill of a wild animal staring menacingly at you through your windshield, while it fantasizes about turning your family car into a convertible, and you into its dinner. That pulse-raising experience is what made the place so much fun.

If you have memories of visiting this unique wildlife park as a child, we welcome them in our comments section, as we remember this lost, but never-forgotten, tourist destination.

9 Responses to “Lion Country Safari”

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  1. Randy Thomas says:

    I just went yesterday (2/19/11) for the first time since 1968-69 when I went as a kid. I remembered the “real stuffed lion” that you could have your picture taken with. It has since been replaced with a plastic lion that looks like it came off a merry-go-round. I guess it is not politically correct anymore to have a real taxidermy lion. I conducted an internet search and found one additional picture of the old lion with kids around it. I asked the park people and one gentleman had been there for 16 years and he didn’t remember any lion, so I guess they got rid of it in the mid 70’s???

    It is still a great place to see wildlife up close and personal and not behind cages.

    • eric says:

      Glad you enjoyed your visit. Thanks for sharing your memories!

    • jim murphy says:

      where is the picture you found of the real stuffed lion ? i had a picture taken while sitting on top of it when i was 5. cant find it would love to see it again in a picture. do you rememeber what you googled to find it ?


  2. Jimmy says:

    The drive thru African Safari is still open in Port Clinton, Ohio however there are no lions. There is one in Ontario Canada that does have lions and monkeys and it’s quite cool.

  3. Jean Drumm says:

    The boyfriend and I went several times in the early 70’s. Wonderful place. I remember having a plastic animal made in this machine each visit. I could watch the plastic being injected into the mold and also selected which animal I wanted made. Great times!

  4. Gina says:

    There’s a place in South Dakota, I believe it’s called Bear Country USA, and it’s like Lion Country Safari, except it uses local animals instead of African animals. I’ve been to both and they’re both fun.

  5. Ali says:

    In the mid-80s, Oregon’s Wildlife Safari (now “Discount Lion Safari” to local Simpsons fans) let you pose with a live leopard at the end. Well…”live” in the sense that the poor thing was breathing. “She’s not drugged, she’s just nocturnal.” Uh…okay, if you say so. Mom has the photo, I’m awkwardly holding its poor droopy head up for the picture. Good times.

  6. Bob Flowers says:

    In late 1971, I was the instigator of an incident at the Orange County Lion Country Safari (Trespassers WILL be eaten!) which made it to a photo in the local paper.
    I had grown catnip in my back yard for my pet Tomcat, and when I found out that the girl across the street was going there for her birthday with her family, I filled a paper shopping bag from Luckey’s grocery store with several handfulls of fresh CATNIP which I had crushed between my hands, attaching the bag to the front bumper of their station wagon with a wire coat hanger. Lions DO like catnip! Evidently 3 climbed onto the hood at one time or another after blocking the road and smelling the catnip, and one climbed onto the roof. I got grounded a lot back in my high school days!

  7. Jennifer says:

    My grandma took me here when I was little and I remember we had a gray little car and the baby rhino thought we were his mommy and leaned up against the car and wouldn’t move for like 20 minutes. I will never forget

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