Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lion Country Safari, 1970 & 1971

I have a few photos from the long-defunct "Lion Country Safari" in Irvine, California! The first LCS opened in Florida in 1969, while the Irvine location opened in 1970. At one point there were six LCS locations (!), but only the Florida example remains today.

The concept of Lion Country Safari was that it would be a "cageless zoo" in which guests could enjoy a safari experience from the comfort of their family cars. Here's a great shot of a giraffe; we're so used to seeing these on TV, but what amazing animals they are!

Awwwww! Two lionesses are probably tired of being stared at, and one has picked up her cub by the scruff of its neck. Totes adorbs. Let's open our car doors and see if they want to snuggle! (The Florida park finally had to put a fence between the animals and the cars in 2005, because guests refused to follow the rules about keeping doors and windows closed).

These next three are date-stamped "September 1970", so LCS was only a few months old at this point (having opened in June). The large building housed "Trader Robbie's African Curios". I wonder what was hidden beneath that ominous black tent?

As a kid, I thought these zebra-striped jeeps were about the coolest thing ever, and I was very jealous of the employees who were allowed to drive them. 

I'm not sure what purpose was served by this pretty pond - maybe it was home to flamingoes. Or perhaps this was "Lake Shanalee", where one could take a hippo-shaped, leg-powered paddle boat.

Seems like a good time to repost this faded 1971 snapshot of my Mom, riding one of those hippo boats with my little sister and brother. It sure looks like Lake Shanalee!

By 1984, Irvine's Lion Country Safari closed, due to high costs and low attendance.


Nanook said...


I was one of that group who never attended LCS, although I certainly drove by its location many a time. Although if'n I'd known about those cool, zebra-striped Jeeps, well then...

Thanks, Major.

Scott Lane said...

We went to the Florida LCS once back in '73. We had driven down in my dad's '68 Chevy Caprice which had no air conditioning. Now that was fine....until we got to Lion Country Safari.
Lion Country Safari....where you had to drive through....slowly. With your windows up. In Florida.
It took all of about 10 minutes for us all to start regretting our decision to visit this fine attraction. At least I suppose it was a fine attraction - all I remember is everybody progressively getting bitchier as the temperature in the car climbed and the sweat started pouring down our faces.
We couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Irene said...

I did go to the Irvine location several times back in the '70's. I also took photos but whatever happened to them, I have no idea unfortunately. One thing that clearly stands out in my memory is sitting in the car looking at a lion relaxing in a hill. Then he decided to roar. Never heard a lion roar like that before. It was so loud and almost shook the car. Very impressive. Of course this was the home of the famous lion Frasier, an aging circus lion from Mexico. Turns out there was more to him than met the eye when it came to the lioness population. He was apparently quite the stud and fathered a number of babies. There was a movie about him in 1972. After he died, and because he became quite famous, he was buried in the hills overlooking Lion Country Safari. This is a nice little article I found about that:

Debbie V. said...

I remember LCS but never visited. Looking at these pictures I'm wondering where these animals go to hide out? Where are the trees for the giraffe's to eat. And did they provide prey for the lions to kill? Hmm many questions.

TokyoMagic! said...

Just like Nanook, I never visited Lion Country Safari. The funny thing is, I've written a blog post about it that also includes the info about Frasier the lion (Irene!), but it isn't set to post until May.

I do wish I had gotten the chance to see LCS. I think it was just far enough away, that it wasn't on my parents' radar. Maybe I should have begged them to take us. That worked for Magic Mountain, which was also a further drive than Disneyland, Knott's or Universal Studios.

Pegleg Pete said...

As a child in the early '70s I went to the Lion Country Safari in Georgia, but my only real memory of the visit was riding an elephant in the non-drive-through part of the park. Curiously, here in Britain there are still a number of drive-thorugh anumal parks in operation. A couple of years back there was a fairly high-profile incident in which a car caught fire in one park and the occupants had to be rescued before they became prey. I can't help but wonder how common such incidents are in these parks.

Pegleg Pete said...

And, yes, I do remember loving that zebra-stripe motif associated with Lion Country Safari!

Anonymous said...

LCS. It was a time when there still were open spaces sufficient to support a mini savannah. I believe the area is now called Irvine Center, pretty much at the junction of I-5 and I-405. Living nearby we went a number of times and it's now etched in my memory. Orange County was a cool place to live back then. KS

Chuck said...

I visited LCS once in early '76, and a lot of that visit is still clearly imprinted on my brain.

The safari itself was pretty cool (it was January and we had air conditioning anyway). There were all sorts of "watering hole" animals wandering around the car, sort of like a live-action version of the African veldt scene in the Jungle Cruise (minus the sleeping zebra, of course.)

I remember an ostrich strutting over to our station wagon and proceeding to peck at the front passenger window - repeatedly. I guess too many guests weren't following the rules and the bird had developed an association with cars and food. Either that or it had seen The Birds one time too many.

I remember having to wait for the electric gate to open to cross between the herbivore area and the lions' enclosure, and there was a guard tower for the operator. The lions didn't come too close to the car; in fact, I don't remember them doing anything but sitting there and panting. But they were lions, and that was enough.

We rented hippos and pedaled around Lake Shanlee. There was a huge fountain in the lake and I wanted to pedal into it, but my dad wouldn't let us for some reason. Some people are such killjoys.

And then there was the jeep ride. You climbed into a zebra-striped vehicle that ran on a concrete roadway and was guided by a central rail. There was a steering wheel but it didn't do anything, and I don't think there was an accelerator. The jeep just went.

I remember climbing into one by myself and enjoying the ride...until it drove into a tunnel. A blacklit tunnel. With florescent spears and masks and signs that said "Danger" painted on the walls. I was terrified and closed my eyes. It haunted my dreams for years.

Thanks for bringing back some wonderful (and traumatizing) memories, Major!