Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Lion Country Safari

The first and only time I visited Lion Country Safari was when I was 14 years old. My family didn't take any photos that I know of. It was part of a company picnic that my step-father was involved in. We mostly congregated at a picnic area designated for large groups. Everyone in attendance was free to get into the cars and go through the tour to see the wild animals.

From what I remember, I wasn't all that impressed. My expectation was to see hungry lions walk up to your car, and inquisitive ostriches peck at your windows, just like you saw in the brochures. It just never happened.

Below are some e-mails we received during the old days of concerned Lion Country Safari:

By: Tamara, 5 July 2002

I have too many brilliant memories of an expansive and "wild" area where you could see the animals at Lion Country Safari from the freeway (if you can call it that then - a couple of lanes either side with a huge dirt ditch in the middle - you could actually do a u-turn if you wanted to on it). We always looked for the giraffe's as their heads stood out quite easily.

By: Tim Holmes, 8 Feb 2002

Was a kid growing up in Huntington Beach, I used to really enjoy the drive through Lion Country Safari Park located down in Irvine. Seeing wild animals from the window of my mom's car was quite a thrill! Frazier the lion was always my favorite and it was really sad to see him pass away from old age in the early 1970's. I believe the Irvine Amphitheater is now located where Lion Country Safari once stood.
If you have any memories of Lion Country Safari, please click on "Post a Comment" below, and share with us what you remember.


  1. That's too bad, that your expectations were disappointed on your one visit. Maybe it was the wrong time of day, because that's how I remember it - lions all over the car and ostriches trying to squeeze their heads into the window cracks.
    The first time I went, on a fifth grade field trip, one of the lionesses decided to jump on the hood of the car in front of us and soon all of the lions were standing on the cars and peering in the windows at us. We kids were thrilled, but our poor mothers were terrified. A park handler had to come chase them off so that we could move on.


  2. Steve,

    Since I lived so close to Lion Country, my family went about 4 times total. I only remember one time well - and yes, lions did jump on the are (not ours the one in front of us). It was very exciting. I think I was 10 or 11.

    But my best memory is just driving by on the 5 Fwy (which we did at least once a week) and craning out necks to see what animals we could spot.

    You could usually see a giraffe or two (for obvisou reasons) but sometimes you could get a glimpse of a lion or a hippo or something. It was fun to have wildlife right there in our own backyards.

    I was sad when they closed it, but they've made pretty good use of the land. For years there was a wonderful summer camp called "Camp Fraiser" (named after one of the lions). Now, of course, it's mostly Wild Rivers and the Verizon Ampitheater.

    Thanks for letting me share

  3. I was a Signpainter at LC.I would spend my lunch hour driving a zebra stripped jeep through the park.It was quite interesting being so close to lions,giraffes,rhinos.I learned alot there thanks to a wonderful Signman named Warren Murrie.

  4. Lions - Kisses - Buffet

    O.K. I lived in Orange County my whole life, it seem that I have been to the Lion Country Safari area less that a dozen times.

    First time was when I think we went on a fifth grade field trip. We bussed around through the parked but don't remember anything spectacular happening but I do remember is being interesting to see the lions in their environment. I remember going on the paddle boat that day too.

    Next time I remember going there was for a Sadie Hawkins event in my junior year. I was not particularily enamored with my date and I remember a kiss that was not too thrilling.

    Within the past ten years I may have gone to the ampitheater about 6 times for various group most notably for Jimmy Buffet. Any of you that have gone to one of these concerts can understand the craziness that happens at these concerts.

    Next time I remember

  5. I grew up in Laguna Hills just south of Lion Country Safari in the early 70's and I can remember
    hearing the lions, at nite in spring.

  6. One of my fondest memories of Orange County and my college days at the University of California at Irvine was working on a project for an Animal Social Behavior class with Laura Robinson. Laura and I (being the cat lovers that we are) picked the lions at Lion Country Safari as our project topic for this awesome class being taught by Dr. Robert Morris in 1979. We made arrangements with the facility and park to be parked and posed for recording action at the break of dawn when the park rangers fed the lions. I believe we went several times a week for about a month and we learned so much about these fascinating creatures. I still remembered how we laughed so hard when we would watch them make "o-shaped faces with their mouths" and noticed that the roars of the lions were not like the MGM lion roar that I was accustomed to seeing on television. We actually got to know the different lions where we could recognize the different males, females and cubs. After we collected our data. we produced a full scale report (complete with photographs and diagrams to accompany the long hours of research that we did). And this was in the days before Internet came along. Laura and I are still best buddies and we have often wondered what happened to our report when the park closed down. If anyone knows how to get a hold of anyone who may know, could you call me at (714) 654-6636 or e-mail me (Gail Kawanami) at
    I am so glad that I fell onto this website and had a moment to reminensce.
    Gail Kawanami

  7. I only went to Lion Country Safari once and don't remember too much of it. But I took my niece and nephews to Wild Rivers Water Park (which is where LCS once was) many years ago and they still had the large tusks with the lion picture between them from the gates of LCS


  9. We took the kids and went to Lion Country Safari back in the 60's. We still have the signs "Violators will be eaten" on our yard gates. I was looking at the website to take my grandchild, but apparently it is in Florida now. We have the best of memories.

  10. My husband and I moved to Westminster in 1977, and made our way to Lion Country Safari in 1978. The place was bustling! We rode the boat through the canals ( the pics of the empty, overgrown dock and empty canals are bazarre! ), we drove through the animal enclosure and had a Rhino come up to the car, rest its horn on the passenger door ( MY SIDE! ), look inside at me, and then slowly turn its head and walk away, leaving a big dent and scrape in the door. LOL It was GREAT! The Ostriches were begging for food, and others were wandering around. The Big Cat enclosure was great! Back in the amusemnet part of the park, we ate, walked around, and saw Primates and lots of other "beings". I just can't believe it's all gone now. It's spooky to look at the photos of everything overgrown and abandoned. We moved from CA in 1980.

  11. I remember a school field trip too, it was about 1977. An elephant came right up to our bus, stuck his trunk through a partially open window and the 'troublemaker' in the class stuck his hand in the elephants trunk. I have great memories of visiting with my family and being deliciously scared when the lions would come right up to the windows. I miss Lion Country Safari!

  12. I went on a field trip in the mid-1970s (3rd or 4th grade), and a lion actually jumped onto the hood of the school bus. Quite a memory. I was always impressed with the place (went at least once with my family in addition to the school trip).

  13. I remember when that one dude got eaten by that one mean lion. Too bad they had to close down 'cause of that.

  14. It was the summer of 1971, and I was a rising junior in high school. I was on vacation from the New England states, visiting my aunt. One of our day trips was to Lion Country Safari. I still have some excellent photos of my visit, especially of a giraffe staring down into the back window. There wasn't much to do after the safari ride, except to eat and shop. There were some kiddie rides, I think. The amimals were awesome, and it was a fond memory.

  15. Lion country Safari may seem long gone, but remains are left of the park. Many of the buildings still remain in the Wild Riers and the famous arches shaped like tusks are still there. The lake known as lake Shanalee is now used by Camp James. The waterpark has a african theme. Including african queen plaza with (i'm not sure) a boat from the Zambi River Ride.

  16. I grew up in Cypress in the 70's & went twice to LCS. I remember an ostrich did NOT like my dad, & tried to peck him in the head! It was hilarious!!! The lions walked around in front of us, us being dad, mom & brother, huddled together in a '69 Impala. It was a great time. Depressing to see the pictures from 2000. I have a few I will dig out & scan in the next couple of weeks & post them here.
    Does anyone know when it closed, & why it closed. Someone on here mentioned poor attendance & the Ampitheater. Does someone have details? I left Calif. in '83 & didn't know LCS closed until recently.

  17. Hi,
    My father ran the park in florida and was vp in california. I went to the park every week as a kid and had access to places most people didn't get to go. I do remember the escaped hippo and I might have a picture I will look. My biggest memory of the park was going into the animal nursery and taking care of the lion cubs. I took a few of them home a few times and took care of them for a week. That was alot of work for a 9 year old, but I did learn alot about animal nature by doing so. I also remember the really bad movie frasier the sensious lion.
    I did love the parks I went to the ones in Florida, Texas, Georgia, and California. They were all really kool, and alot of fun. I do plan on going back to the one in florida that is still open and checking it out.

  18. like many have said, went to LCS for school field trip back in 74 75.Just came back from the site today 12/4/05 and managed to sneak into the zambezi boat ride area, and found it to be in even worse shape.The loading platform has mostly collapsed.Of the 4 boats themselves, only one has the cover still standing{barely!}The crossed tusks and lions face sign out front has been gone for a couple of years.I managed to salvage a couple of small signs. one says"AFRICAN VILLAGE" bubbles died a couple of years before the park closed.Drowned in a pond off laguna canyon road after escaping again.What hill is frazier buried on?

  19. I think fraser was buried on the hill overlooking the main lion area, probably to the west.

  20. I have wonderful & exciting memories of Lion Country Safari! One visit, in 1973, I was 18 yrs old. My boyfriend & I parked his Datson pick-up truck in the Lion area to view the lions. One lion wondered over to our truck; looked at us, looked both ways, and then jumped into the back of our truck! We later learned the vehicle used to bring the lions food, was a truck. Mr. Lion was looking for his dinner. It was most exciting! I wanted to drive off and bring Mr. Lion home with me!!

  21. I went to Lion Country Safari on at least one occasion although I was too young to remember it. The reason that I know I was there is because of the stories my family tells about it. Apparently, my parents took me and possibly my two older sisters in their old wood paneled 70s style station wagon. My Auntie Gladys was accompanying us and I was seated on her lap in the back seat. She was leaning against the back driver's side door looking at the passing lions when the door swung open and we both fell out of the car onto the ground. I can only imagine the horror on my parents' faces. Thanks for sharing this site with all of us.

  22. It has been a great trip down memory lane reading everyone's comments. I wish that I had a chance to go back to LCS again and to take my own children. I don't personally remember any great experiences w/the animals but I do remember my mom telling the story all the time of an aunt of mine visiting from Panama and our family took her and my uncle to LCS. When we got to the ticket counter they wanted to charge her the price of a child because she was so short. Funny how silly things like that can evoke a smile. I also remember when a lion passed away and they buried him. After reading everyone elses comments it must have been Frasier. Everytime we drove by on the 5fwy I could see the cross up on the hill. I'm not sure if it's there any more. I still miss that place after all these years. Thanks to everyone else for sharing their memories. I am also curious as to the true reason the park closed.

  23. Wow, the power of the Internet ... was just wondering in the car whatever happened to LCS. I went one time in 1971 with my aunt and uncle. I do recall the ostriches, for sure. But no one mentioned riding the elephants -- that was the highlight of our day. Wish I could see some photos, too .. time for more searching.

  24. I remember LCS well. I grew up in Costa Mesa, and went often. The park was exotic, safe and a great alternative to Marine Land in Long Beach (where mom always packed me a TUNA FISH lunch!). I have MANY warm memories of LCS.

    First and foremost, Frazier. He was the oldest male lion, and the biggest stud there (the press always boasted the fact that he sired more cubs than the other male lions combined). When the movie Born Free came out, it brought new notariety to our Frazier. Shortly thereafter, Frazier died, and was buried on the west-facing hill above the park. There was a small, white cross marking his grave. The TV was covered with the news, my sister hugged her "Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion" doll and weeped, and the song with the lyrics "In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight..." played often. For years thereafter, on my trips along the 405, I craned my neck - not for a view of the current animals, but to see that little white cross and to say a little prayer over Frazier.

    When you drove through the park, you had two options: 1) go through at your own pace and just look on; or 2) rent a tape recorded tour guide that told you all about the animals in the order you would encounter them, and then tell you to turn off the tape until you were ready to move on to the next location. My brother always wanted to listen ahead, causing great disturbance among the five siblings!

    I remember the tall observation towers that always reminded me of prison camps, and I was sure that there were game wardens up there looking for any rogue animal or visitor who needed to be shot! What an imagination!

    I also remember serving as a summer school teacher's aide at E.A. Rea Middle School (since then also gone the way of the dodo) where we exposed elementary school kids to various cultures of the world, with a different country to choose from each week - they chose which to rotate to. We were doing "Africa," and I remember thinking how tacky the culminating field trip was, as it wasn't really indicative of African culture...not very P.C. Anyway, we took a busload of elementary school kids each Friday for four weeks. It was summer, so it was HOT, and the animals usually weren't very active mid-day when we arrived. But one time, the lions were active indeed; they were mating - right out there for God and man to see! The children saw one lion mount another, and asked the teacher what they were doing. The teacher was mortified! She was speechless. I, with quick thinking, piped up with, "They're wrestling. Isn't that funny?" The teacher looked relieved, the bus driver chuckled and drove on, and the kids were no more "world wise" than before. Later, when we saw another pair of animals mating down the road, the kids said, "Oh look, they're wrestling, too!"

    Another memory is that of a giraffe sticking it's HUGE, LONG tongue in the window of the cars! Totally gross, but wickedly cool!

    I remember the aggressive ostriches - they were scary, fast and unpredictable.

    I also remember the spider monkeys that would leap from the trees onto the canopy of the Zambizi Riverboat Ride, screeching and grabbing at personal items, hairclips, etc., and scaring the crap out of unsuspecting patrons before leaping back into the trees. I LOVED those monkeys!

    Finally, my last visit to LCS was my senior prom - they rented out the protected areas of the park for special events at the time. I went with one of my best buddies, Wayne, and we weren't romantically involved at all. I saw that the Zambizi ride was open, and begged him to go on it, saying I had only been during the day but never at night, when I was SURE the monkeys would be more active (doh!). We started out with the driver's "set speech" (about keeping your hands and arms inside the boat, because you never knew what hungry animals lurked in the trees and bushes), the boat went into motion, and then all the running lights were turned off! It was totally make-out city, which really made me and my date feel awkward. I worked my way to the front of the boat and asked the driver if the monkeys came out at night. He laughed at me, saw that my date and I were really out of place in this "mack fest," and offered us each one of his beers from his small cooler. It was the neatest prom EVER!!

    I, too, thought that the park closed due to low attendance. I seem to remember reading about an aggressive elephant killing a keeper; but the news always was accompanied by the reminder that these are wild animals and unpredictable in nature. And then I saw the post above about a lion killing someone...I don't remember that at all. I also wish I had saved some of my old snapshots, pictures of the giraffe's tongue, Frazier, the attractions, the whole experience saved via Kodak. I guess that sites help to stimulate all the mental pictures I have stored away - and for that, I thank you.

  25. I just read an April 30th article from the LA Times called "What Were They Thinking?" It included the following section on the demise of LCS:

    Lion Country Safari

    Only in the Hollywood's backyard could amusement parks turn into captivating theme lands. After popularizing the boysenberry, Walter Knott built Knott's Berry Farm in 1940 and later brought in buildings from the Mojave Desert ghost town of Calico. Fifteen years later, Disneyland added fairy castles and oversized rodent plushies to the mix. Cha-ching!

    The real coup in the Southland, however, occurred in 1970 when Lion Country Safari, a South African drive-through zoo concept where the animals are not caged, opened a branch in Irvine. Taking a huge bite — nearly 140 acres — out of Orange County real estate (the site now is home to Wild Rivers and the Verizon Amphitheater), Lion Country Safari was an exercise in the-sky's-the-limit thinking, plagued by a few unfortunate, don't mess-with-Mother-Nature incidents.

    In 1972, Frazier, the lion king of the Lion Country Safari suburban jungle, expired after two years of stud duty, having sired 33 cubs. Then a worker was killed attempting to capture a wayward elephant. And finally, in 1979, Bubbles the hippo went AWOL and was found holed up in a rain-filled pond. After several days of trying to extract the beast, authorities tranquilized Bubbles, who sank to the bottom of the pond and drowned.

    By 1984, the safari was closed, citing losses of nearly half a million dollars in the previous fiscal year.

  26. I like Lion Country Safari. Went a few times as a kid and one of my most distinctive memories was of an ostrich walking right up to our car.

  27. I drove through LCS in 1980 in my new Subaru. There weren't many other visitors that day and I was taking my time. It must have been about feeding time because park workers had dumped feed directly on the asphalt at various locations.
    I came around a curve and saw a huge rhino standing in the middle of the road eating the food. I watched a few minutes and then wanted to continue my drive through the park. The problem was the rhino was blocking the road.
    I slowly inched my new car closer and closer to him hoping he'd move out of the way. He ignored me completely. I kept creeping closer until I was about ten feet from him. He still ignored me. So I tapped my horn.
    Whoa! That got his attention! He took a step backward, squared his shoulders at the car, lowered his head, and started pawing the ground. I knew that if I moved the car even an inch or made the slightest sound that I would find out my little car was no match for a rhino.
    I stayed motionless for a few minutes until he quieted down, and then I very, very slowly backed away. I waited until he finished eating, which didn't take long, and then he moved off the pavement. I then slowly passed him and continued on my way.
    I have to say it was a very intense moment to be that close to a ticked off rhino who considered me a target. I felt the car would have been adequate protection for me, but I knew the small, lightweight Subaru would have been seriously damaged if he had charged. Anyway, that's my story.

  28. I remember a scool field trip around 1975'ish through the park, as well as a friends b-day. Both visits were spectacular to me (as a 10yr old). I too remember lions on the hood, as well as a rhino that nudged our bus-pretty cool. I was quite disipointed to find it closed.I had wanted my kids to experience something other than Utah desert wildlife.

  29. I remember going to Lion Country Safari several times as a kid growing up in LA and even after we moved to San Diego in the early 70's. We have family pictures of us in our station wagon with the animals roaming around us. I had forgotten about these adventures until one day I asked my mom, "Hey, didn't we used to go somewhere where the animals were loose? Am I imagining things or did we really see giraffes from the freeway?" It's hard to believe that this savannah park actually existed in OC when you see the concrete jungle it's become. Not to mention how they got away with people being so close to "wild" animals(without 100-page disclaimers and signed waivers)... you just wouldn't see that in the US these days. If anyone is looking for something similar, the Wild Animal Park in Escondido, CA offers photo safaris (for a price)and just visiting the park in general is a great zoo-alternative.

  30. It's hard to beleive that 22 year's has past since Lion Country Safari closed and some of it still remains. (part of the drive thru safari and the buildings) The area also had the OCIR dragstrip on the otherside of the 405 freeway. The fate of the park was inevitable not only to finacial woes but creeping development and the safety concerns with the animals. I enjoyed LCS for what it had to offer seeing all the animals in their natural enviroment. Sadly people had lost interest in the animals and LCS has become history.

  31. My dad was in the oil business and after Frasier died, my dad rented his office. No joke. Frasier's people had had an office in Century City, all decorated in abstracted lion graphics and grass wallpaper, and that suited my swingin' 70s dad to a T back in those days.

  32. I believe my little brothers accident was the final incident at Lion Country Safari.
    I don't know if any of you can recall a 3yr. old boy being mauled by a tiger??? It was some time back in '83', I was about 6 yrs. of age then.

    I remember the day, bright and sunny, my family along with my cousins, aunts and uncles were all there. We were watching a lion and tiger show outside. The ring master, tigers and lions were inside of a big dome shape chain linked fence, from what I remember. A velvet rope, then bleachers surrounded the cage. One tiger seemed to stand out the most, constantly disagreeing with the Ring Master. Ring Master cracking the whip, making it more angry. Finally the tiger was fed up, jumped off his stool and went straight for the entrance of which the lions and tigers entered. Unfortunately, the gate trap wasn't closed all the way. The tiger snuck out, ran all the way around the cage and thats where he saw my little brother standing in front of the bleachers. From that point on it was a nightmare. People running everywhere, it was chaotic.

    It was a horrible experience, but fortunately he is alive to this very day, thank god. The attack was pretty bad, but you wouldn't know just by looking at him. He has plenty of scars, but they're pretty much hidden under his clothing. The hair on his head covers what was the most severe scar.
    Sorry if this was too much for some of you, I just figured I'd share it.

  33. I took my class on a field trip today to the Wild Animal Park and I was so excited remembering when I was very young and we could drive our own cars through there. Then another of the teachers said it was Lion Country Safari I must be referring to. YES, IT WAS! Reading through these postings, floods of memories are coming back. We would sit in the back rear-facing seats of the family station wagon and the only rules were to stay in your vehicle. Lions, rhinos, giraffes would all just be wandering around, curious about the cars and looking for snacks. I remember hearing that too many maulings happened and that's why it closed. The Wild Animal park is NOTHING compared to the LCS of yester-year.

  34. - I had the good fortune to be the first Zambezi River Ride Operator at LCS - and had actually just returned to work at D'land - after my tour of South Viet Nam (Air Force) - We had some truly great - and some very tense moments all through my tenure at LCS, but some of the best memories are of my fellow employees - Shelley Redline; Jennifer Benson; Heidi Gattoni just to name a few. Then there were the animals...Dutchy the Great White Rhino; and the twin Cheeta's - Kama & Sutra, and the trio of Gibbons on our ride "the Flying Burrito Brothers". Lion Country Safari was one of the best things that ever happened to South Orange County.

  35. I was there in 1978 and it was terrific. Lots of animals close enough to photo within range of the little Vivitar camera. I actually was "scrapping" the photos I'd taken and looked up this site by chance. Having been born and raised in Orange, finding Lion Country Safari had been closed was very disappointing. Unfortunately, I've not been back in the area since, much to my dismay.

  36. I was employed at Wild Rivers in the Summer of 1997 and It was interesting looking back to see how the parks were built on top of eaech other. The old Lion Country safari entrance gates are still there last I checked along with the large road that you would drive around. The camp fraiser area (now camp jones was also part of the park which included large lakes.
    My family remembers the "great hippo escape of 1978" and the tragic mauling of the little girl from El Toro who rolled her window down (it was a big no no).
    Their were also some secret roads that you could hop in order to sneak into the Verizon Wireless/Irvine meadow amphitheater.
    Wow, this is making me feel old!
    -Rob Christensen

  37. I have been on safari in Africa and love all African wildlife especially the big cats but I am sorry to say I missed out on seeing Lion Country Safari. So a few days ago when I asked a friend who lived for years in Southern California he mentioned this web site. I must say I was not surprised that nobody had any photos. That's simply because back in the 60's and 70's taking photos is something many of did and now most of us regret it. The good news is there are many photos to be found on the Internet. For example, here is a site that not only has photos of it but in fact there are some while it was under construction and some of how it sits abandoned today. (Copy & Paste)

  38. My father and I, from Boulder, Colorado, visited our cousins in Canoga Park back in 1972. One of our journeys that summer was to drive through Lion Country Safari. We drove through the park with our three little cousins in the Jeep, expecting to see Fraser, the lion.

    I would reach outside the back window and grab the unsuspecting arm sticking out the front window, scaring our passenger to death.

    While we saw many animals, we never saw Fraser. Later that evening, we found out that Fraser had died just hours earlier in the afternoon.

  39. does anyone remember bubbles the hippo!

  40. I went to Lion Country Safari just one time when I lived in Irvine in The Racquet Club near Culver and I-5. A group of us rode our bicycles there just to check things out. I was in 8th grade at the time, so it was around 1973/1974 time frame. I remember the shooting gallery that worked with lights instead of BB's or other types of projectiles. Since we were on bicycles, and didn't have a whole lot of money, we didn't go into the animal area. Before we left, we stopped at one of the souvenir stands and someone in our group just grabbed a bunch of the rubber-tipped spears and just started handing them out to us as we rode by on our bicycles. He even handed them to people who were walking by. I know, I know...not a nice thing to do, but it happend.

  41. I only got to go to Lion Country one time. It was on a school field trip sometime around 1973. We lived in San Clemente at the time, and one of my very best childhood memories was of a couple of giraffes who walked up to the bus, and started licking the windows of the bus. To a child of 5 or so... it was hysterical!

    The bus driver told us that it happened almost every year when they did the field trip. Apparently, because we lived so near the beach, the buses were usually a bit salty from the sea air... and the giraffes loved licking the salt off the buses.

    I also remember that there was some sort of jungle jeep ride in the amusement park section, that went through a long tunnel, that had animated spiders and whatnot. Again, pretty cool for a young boy of 5. It's amazing how much I remember from such a long time ago. I wish it was still around so I could take my family now.

    I was just at the Roger Waters concert last Friday night... and had no idea that there were still some parts of Lion Country that are still there! I wish I had known... I might have done a little snooping around.

  42. Hi, I just bought one of the old Lion Caountry Safari Jeepsters, but it has been repainted and the logo has been oversprayed. Does anyone have a picture or a post card with the logo on the side of the Jeepsters? I would appreciate it, so i could have it silk screened back on the car.

  43. I grew up in California and our family would visit LCS yearly. My Mom loved animals and we were always thrilled to see them up so close. One time we were driving through the lion area in our Country Squire station wagon, complete with faux wood siding, and my Mom had decided that she would sit in the back seat so we kids could sit up front with Dad. A large male lion walked right over to the window where my Mom was sitting, turned around, and proceeded to spray our car with urine! we were in total hysterics. You should have seen the faces of the folks at the gas station as my dad recounted the experience while attempting to rinse the horribly potent smelling stuff off the car with the little water hose that you used to fill your radiator :)

  44. Wow!
    I have not though of Lion Country Safari for years, when a news station in Florida featured the first park in South Florida, and the only Lion Country Safari still in operation.
    The 'bouldersmom' post brought back good memories.
    I also grew up in California and our family visited LCS every year in our Black Ford Falcon Squire Station Wagon (with wood siding and 'Lovely Red' interior).
    It was always very warm, Mom would pack lots of snacks and drinks and we had loads of fun.
    My fondest memory is of a very large and ornery ostrich that apparently, did not appreciate our presence and attacked the vehicle!
    We were surprised, but not hurt, however the episode certainly 'ruffled my Dad's feathers' and left us with a dented wagon :)

  45. Friday, July 6, 2007
    Wild Rivers amusement park to close
    The water park's land lease ends this fall and The Irvine Co. will not renew it.
    The Orange County Register

    Wild Rivers Waterpark's 22-year run will come to its end after this season.

    The water park's lease with landlord The Irvine Co. expires this fall and will not be renewed, despite Wild Rivers' request for an extension.

    "The time has come for us to take the next step and to provide future housing to meet the needs of the community," Irvine Co. spokesman Bill Rams said. "Because of this, we were not able to accommodate their request."

    In 2006 the city changed the zoning of the land to allow residential development. The Irvine Co. plans to build about 3,700 houses and condos on the parcel of land, which includes Wild Rivers and Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, according to an Irvine World News report from last year. The amphitheatre's lease ends in 2017.

    The Irvine Co. plans to honor the amphitheatre's contract until it ends, Rams said.

    Before The Irvine Co. confirmed to the Register today that the lease would not extended, Wild Rivers President Mike Riedel, who has worked at the park for ten years, said he was hoping to get at least a one-year lease extension through next summer.

    "We knew we wouldn't be around forever," Riedel said. Building homes "will create more income for The Irvine Co. than the water park could ever do," he said.

    But still, "it's a hard thing to deal with. We have a thousand employees – all of them are relying on me to get them a place to work. Families take their kids here. I feel responsible on both fronts."

    Wild Rivers employs about a thousand people each summer. More than 400,000 people visit the park each summer for more than 40 rides and attractions. The water park is open for business through Sept. 30. The lease ends October 31, Riedel said.

    In 1998, Wild Rivers got a five-year renewal to extend their lease's ending date from the 2003 season through the 2007 season, according to Riedel.

    The area is "one of the best pieces that remain on the Irvine Ranch," said Mark Boud, the president of Real Estate Economics in Irvine. It is west of the I-405 Freeway with great access to jobs, shopping, and entertainment, he said. He estimates that the land is worth $3.5 to $4.5 million per acre after it has been prepared for townhouses, condos and single-family houses.

    Wild Rivers, including its parking lot, occupies about 29 acres of land.

    Riedel hopes to open another water park in south Orange County and has considered Laguna Niguel, the future Great Park, and other parts of the old El Toro Marine Corps base as locations. Given the time it takes to acquire permits, the earliest they could open is 2009 – if they found a spot soon.

    The park, however, would not likely be called Wild Rivers because there would be different investors, Riedel said. Many people who were part of the team that invested the park in 1986 are now older and their investment plans have changed, Riedel explained.

    The leasing contract requires that some of the assets be turned over to The Irvine Co. when the park closes. The rides that are left will be auctioned, Riedel said. He said the potential future water park would have new attractions.

    Laguna Niguel's City Council considered Riedel's proposal to lease a watershed basin area for a water park. But Riedel said the site is problematic because it was not quite big enough and it was in a water retention area that could cause flood issues.

    Earlier this year Wild Rivers' officials made a presentation to the Great Park committee about moving to the sports and recreation section of the park.

    Riedel has also talked with Lennar about using other land at the El Toro Base.

    "If there's anyone out there with 20 to 25 acres of land, we'd love to hear from them," Riedel said. "It's hard to find large parcels like that in south Orange County."

  46. my mom took me and my brother several times. Once the lions came to our car curiously and wouldn't leave so the little park zebra jeeps had to come and move them so the cars could keep flowing through the lions part. I must also comment on the horrendous irresponsibility of the park folks upon their departure. They abondoned many wild animals at the park in terrible conditions. A friend and I snuck in with cameras and took hundreds of pictures that we sent to authorities that weren't sure what to do at that time in the late 80s. One great shot was of toxic 55 gal chemical barrels sitting in one to the man-made streams, with, of course, Wild Rivers in the background full of kiddies. The worst part was our photo trip up the Martine's Wildlife Waystation in Little Tujunga Canyon up in L.A. She luckily saved most of the abandoned animals, like bears, tigers etc and she would have a better low down and explanation about why Lion Country left so many animals to starve and die. Tons of animals. She is a volunteer service up their and needs all of our help in keeping up the food supplies. I think her place is 180 acres only. Anyway, it is a big lesson in thinking our projects all the way through. Right -- there is no where to bring those types of animals "back to" as they are territorial and wild places are diminishing and not just popping up from the land....

  47. Ahh, I remember Lion Country Safari in Irvine. Which is now I believe the Irive Meadows? I was pretty young when my dad took me and my siblings there. I actually remember people rolling their car windows down to take a better look. I told my husband about this place, him being from Chicago and not knowing about all the great places in OC. He was shocked that such a place existed and would let you drive your own vehicle through. Talk about liability! Anyways, great times and memories. On that note..does anyone remember Fresca cola, I believe was the name? That had Frasier the lion on the front?

  48. I have two memories of Lion Country Safari in Irvine California. I was about 7 years old when I went with my school in the school bus and a rhinoceros sat in front of our bus. Even thought the driver honked a few times, the rhino wouldn't move. Finally the teachers busted out our sack lunches and we had our lunches on the bus until the rhino felt like moving.

    The other memory is going through the park driving my mom's old beat up red pinto station wagon that belched smoke. I think the people driving behind us were mad at my mom.

  49. I went to Lion Country safari one time, when I was about 16 and I believe it was one of the very few times I went anywhere like that with both my parents as an older teenager (the embarrassment factor). I remember petting the lion cubs at the end when they brought them out. Several years later was the whole Bubbles the hippo fiasco and I found out Bubbles had drowned when I was having dinner with some friends at the old Skinny Haven Restaurant in Orange. I was so upset I stood up & shouted "Bubbles DIED?" and couldn't finish my weight watcher inspired dessert.

  50. Has anyone ever figured out the number of times animals escaped from the park? There was the time that my mom and I were on our way to Mass down at Capistrano one morning, and as we drove by the triangle made by the two freeways, I spotted a large animal with odd horns standing in the field, calmly munching his way through the crop there. It was a wildebeest or gnu. We couldn't get off the freeway fast enough, and called the park to tell them the gnus about their missing gnu...

    ...sorry, couldn't resist! ^_^

  51. To the poster describing your brothers attack by the tiger. I remember the news reports at the time. It's good to here your brother is doing well today.
    As for Bubbles the Hippo, I read a few reports about his death. Most describe her being shot by a tranquilizer and then having her slip below the water and drowning. That is not what I remember reading in the papers back at the time. After doing some research, I did find reports describing the way I remembered her death:

    Bubbles was finally taken down with tranquilizer darts. Tragically, she collapsed in an unnatural position, and died from suffocation. An autopsy revealed she was five months pregnant.

    The best pics I was able to find were at:

  52. I went to University High School and graduated in 1976. Lion Country Safari was a popular place for my friends to work in the summer (just like Wild Rivers is now). I never went there but I do remember seeing the animals from the freeway and when bubbles the hippo got out.

  53. In 1981 I worked for a company that was responsible for the shows at LCS-The Gentle Jungle. It was an amazing time. The only pictures I have from the park were of me and some of the wild animals from Gentle Jungle that I was showing to the public or some pics w/my family and an elephant we used for the elephant rides. I worked in the shows, as well as the camel and elephant ride. Some folks might remeber Debbie-sweetest elephant wouldn't hurt a fly, but she wasn't that fond of wearing a saddle and would shake just a little when I wasn't looking so the saddle would slide a little to the side. I would have to lay her down to let the passengers off while I readjusted her saddle. She thought that was hilarious! The company I worked for had lots of animals, tigers, lions, bears all were kept out of public view as they were working animals(movies, tv, commercials)-although after hours we would bring them out to work with them.
    I remeber we would barbeque sometimes in the late summer evenings listen to the lions roar at sunset-nothing more incredible-and then listen to the sounds of the bands at the amphitheater. Sometimes we would ride the elephants out to the fence that separated the park from the venue. The fence was on the backside of the venue where the bands parked their buses. We would talk to the people from all sorts of groups and yes we would get invited to the concerts. Oh the perks!

    I remeber too when the baby African elephant was born-LCS had African elephants-several cows and one bull. They would let us play w/him when he was only a couple of months old-he was a tough little punk who would try to hit you w/his trunk and kick you w/ his little feet, playing-very cute!

    I think the end of the park was the incident with the little boy-that was a show owned by a third group-a large cat circus act-they had just returned from Circus of the Stars in Vegas and one of the cages/chutes was loose. I know the trainer and the keeper were the ones who got the tiger off the boy-I don't remember if the tiger was destroyed.
    The elephant incident-the keeper who was killed was not an employee of the Gentle Jungle who owned the elephant-Misty. He was a keeper for LCS-their African elephants. The Gentle Jungle owned 4 female Asian elephants, and unfortunately that keeper had been repeatedly told not to try to handle the Asian elephants as he was not properly trained. He ignored the caution one too many times and paid the ultimate price. Misty was sold to another trainer named Johnson and I lost track of her after that.

    I had returned to college and left the Gentle Jungle just before the incidents, but I would visit occassionally. I know the Gentle Jungle moved their animals to Lancaster after the park closed and I think went out of business soon after.
    I remeber riding a horse(yeah we even had those!) up the hill behind the park-amazing view. I always wondered what the cross was for.....

    1. I was an employee of Lion Country Safari in 1981 as well and your comments on Lees death are completely inaccurate
      Gentle Jungle were subcontracted unprofessional people with dangerous animals .
      Carneys with critters.
      Thats how the staff of Lion Country saw them .
      The trainers would prance around in cutoffs and bikini tops .
      Misty who was used to give children rides in the entertainment area was known to occasionally try to smear her riders against trees and had tried to attack one of her trainers days before killing Lee destroying the side of his new truck as he dove under neath it.
      Lee wasnt a keeper he was the Head ranger for the preserve.
      He was my boss.
      Lee was one of the first people to arrive to work on that morning to find Misty
      half way out of her enclosure because either your staff didnt secure her properly or the chain wasnt sufficient to restrain her. She was being housed in an open barn , 3 walls , a chain on her back left leg and one on her front right. the back left foot was free and she was out of the building and tearing off the rain gutter.

      There was a swap meet full of people several hundred feet away.
      Something had to be done with her immediately , if she broke free, which she did and headed towards the swap meet and not the other way who knows how many other people would have died ?
      Lee had to try to restrain her. He had no choice and he was more than qualified !
      To suggest that Lee was incompetent or had no business to deal with the situation is ridiculous.
      You don't have the pedigree yourself to judge him .
      To work for Gentle Jungle you didn't need to be a rocket scientist.
      Took a bit of cash and a bikini top.
      Your organization had no integrity and it cost Lee his life.
      Her behaviour and how she killed him was not that of a well adjusted animal.
      She had no buisness being used with the public.
      Your company had no integrity, you all knew she was dangerous.
      Wikipedia says he died instantly....that isnt true.
      She knew what she was doing.
      Cant say that much for you.

  54. I got a summer job there my first summer break from Saddleback College. I was 19 and got the job of Tower Guard. I replaced a gal who was returning home to Hawaii. I got lucky! It was a great summer job. I over looked the many Lions (Samson the neutered male stands out; he was such a playful big guy as well as Deliah his buddy) and the Rhinos which were separated from a very tall fence and gate. I was in charge of keeping that gate open, but if animals approached the gate from either side, I would quickly pull hand over hand the rope that would slam that gate closed. It sounds strenuous for a 96 lb girl but it was actually easy if I braced me feet on the wall of the tower and pulled. It was so fun. Getting to and from the tower was interesting; consisted of alot of gate closings, quickly jumping in or out of the employee car, getting quickly back into the hut, tower or car, all for safety sake. I could see the freeway from where I was and everyone I knew, if they were coming home that way would wave and honk. From my vantage point I could see the entire drive through park and all the animals. I was always entertained. We got to know the Rangers, the guys in the striped jeeps, and they let us get to know some of the animals; babies too. Every day was fascinating and it really was a sad day when they just couldn't keep it open any longer. I vividly recall when one of the rangers I knew was killed by one of the elephants; also some attacks. I remember being able to walk towards the back where all the cats were. They were definitley wild. I returned to school after the summer, that was 26 years ago for me. Great, great memories. I am happily grateful to be a part
    of it!!

  55. I have lots of memories. I worked there 26 years ago for a summer. I was a tower guard, replacing a gal from Hawaii and I got the job of making sure that the lions didn't sneak into the Rhino enclosure. The lions were watched very carefully; they were well feed each morning but naturally they were always watching the other animals. If the lion or rhinos approached from either side I would pull the gate closed by rope from high atop a tower. I could see the whole area, all the animals and it was just so fascinating. I am so happy I was able to be a part of that history. It really was a nice place to go during that time.

  56. I have many fond memories of LCS parks. I constructed four of the LCS parks; Texas, Georiga, Ohio and Virgina. Bill York an old safari buddy from our early days in Kenya in the early sixties was the zoologist. Bill Dredge was the day to day contact for the construction and administration of the park system. I visited the Calif and Flordia parks many times. I could write several chapters on my experiences during the construction and managment of these four parks.

    Hal Cope
    Scottsdale, AZ

  57. I have many fond memories of LCS parks. I constructed the parks in Texas, Georgia, Ohio and Virgina. Bill York an old safari buddy during the early sixties was the parks zoologist. Bill Dredge was the day to day contact for the construction and managment of the parks. I could write a small book about my experieces.

    Hal Cope

  58. I went to LCS when I was approx. 5 or 6 around 1978/79. I don't really remember much of the trip except the ostrich that attacked the car. We have photos of it trying to get in the window. We also have pictures of us riding an elephant. It looked like I really enjoyed it. I always hoped I would be able to take my children there but I didn't know until after my son was born that it had closed.I wish I remembered more. Very sad.

  59. I was a Lion Ranger in 1979-1980. I started as a tower guard, then got the ranger position- I heard I was only the second female ranger to be hired in the park's history, although the subsequently hired another, and the two of us had a blast that year working part time while attending Cal Poly Pomona. I have a bunch of pictures, and even some super 8 film of the animals and coworkers. The lions I still remember most of their names: the males: Tsavo, Churchill, and another, and the females: Moon (my favorite) and Nelly, and the cubs, Samson and his sister Delilah, who were nearly full grown, and Chaca and Mtobisan. Samson was neutered by a new vet who apparently could not perform a vascectomy (they other male lions were vascectomized so that there would not be unwanted pregnancies), and so he never grew a mane. When I got there Chaca and Mtobisan had some dumb names like Rick and Cindy, and we renamed them. We had a supervisor who was from South Africa (think that guy who's the velociraptor expert on Jurassic Park- he was just like him) and he came up with these Swahili names (Mtobisan means "mischievious young woman"). There was a daily journal for each section of the park- lions, cheetahs, elephants, bears- where we wrote down our daily observations. I wonder if anyone saved those? We were trained with shotguns so that if ever there were an escape or attack we were prepared to shoot the lions to protect human life. Luckily that never happened. My other supervisor was killed by the elephant shortly after I quit working there. The other side of the story is that this occurred shortly after they put in that amphitheater- and I remember that the night before the band had performed that did that song "my Sharonna". In the morning the elephant had broken all but one leg chain, and was very upset. The owners were not there yet, and so he went in to try to reapply the leg chains. She broke the last chain, and ran him down. I always thought maybe that song drove her over the edge. But it was a terrible tragedy- he left a new wife and baby behind. I wish I had somewhere to post my pictures of the animals. I would love to hear from anyone that I used to work with.

  60. I lived in Orange County and visited Lion Country Safari several times. It was always enjoyable but my favorite was the time our path was blocked by a Giraffe. It wrapped its tongue around our car radio antenna and ran its tongue up and down it for several minutes. We think it was getting salt off the antenna.

  61. LCS was one of my fave places to go when I was little, and I loved Frasier the sensuous lion ... I had (may still have somewhere) a full-size poster with a nice color pic of him with a few of his cubs on the front and on the back were facts about him, in later years I thought of him as the Hugh Hefner of lions. It's a shame he lived such a short time.

    I remember very vividly that whenever we would approach the entrance to the drive-thru portion, there would invariably be either an ostrich, or in one case a giraffe, trying to get out while the people in those little booths chucked rocks at them to scare them back inside.

    When I saw the pics on, I was stunned ... I had completely forgotten about the hippo boats, but the memory rushed back when I saw the pic of them. I know I went on those at some point at least once.

    There is one place you can see some film footage of LCS. PBS produced two programs called "Things That Aren't Here Anymore" and "More Things That Aren't Here Anymore," hosted by Ralph Story. In the second installment they cover LCS briefly, along with Jungleland, Gay's Lion Farm, and Busch Gardens. I wept to see the beautiful big white steamship, the S.S. Catalina, rotting away in some filthy Mexican port.

    They really need to make another installment of that series, as they didn't say anything about Japanese Village & Deer Park, or Marineland, and it was made before we lost Movieland Wax Museum (I still don't understand that ... yeah, we really need another pizza restaurant instead of a unique attraction that helps parents teach their kids some culture for a change).

    I had a similar let-down when I found the Pan Pacific Auditorium in the mid 80s. It was so run-down and covered with grafiti I wanted to cry. It was somewhat amusing that the biggest tag on the building read "XANADU." Even ignorant gang-bangers know the props that place deserves. So why didn't the people who owned it?

    That's the problem, everything gets boiled down to $$$. Walt Disney used to say that they weren't there to make money, they were there to make movies. He said if you worry about quality, the money takes care of itself. He was 100% right, but it's always short-sighted people who are in charge in these situations.

  62. So cool to read all the comments here. I am 22 yrs old and currently working for Lion Country Safari in Florida in the Education Dept.

    Wow, have things changed! LCS is a MUCH safer, interactive park than it used to be. Barriers are in place to seperate Lions, elephants and Monkeys from people and their cars, so no more car damage, lol!

    We have to constantly train the animals good behaiviors when dealing with people, from Macaws to Rhinos. We now even allow you to feed some of the animals. The park is also much more animal behavior oriented, which means training and enrichment in their natural behaviors for the animals, which is something they need to be healthy and have fun with! We also have not had an incident at the park since they instituted a new "protective barrier with staff" policy with some of the animals, meaning that while we work with them we have a fence, moat, pole, branch, etc... between us and the animals. Even the small macaws can bite through my shoe if they wern't used to us as trainers.

    We are also the premier zoo breeders in North America, with succesfull breeding with White Rhinos, Elephants, Chimps and many other endangered animals.

    I encourage all of you to visit us sometime, it's like the old LCS, where the ostrich pecks your windows, lions roar, and chimpazee's howl, but better!
    (Marketing better give me some extra in my paycheck for this!:) )

  63. I took my 3 year old daughter. We had a dark green truck and the animals kept trying to get into the bed of the truck. It was mateing season. There were 2 rhinoceroses, the male kept trying to get on the back end of the female and she kept moving and he would fall off and the ground dirt would fly up and the male elephant business looked like a hose that was full of water and moving all over the place and not being able to have contact. I was really glad my daughter was to young to understand.

  64. I was an employee of LCS in Orange County for the last 7 years of its existence. It was certainly amongst the best experiences of my life. For me, the only real downside was the incessant noise of the jets from the Irvine Marine Air Station, which roared overhead at very low altitudes one after another during the early 1980s. Both people and animals were adversely affected by this. I manned the front gate on the park's last day in November of '84, and was at that post for several years prior to that, along with other jobs in the park. I've always thought there should be a reunion of employees from those years, and would like to hear from anyone else who worked there from 1977-1984. I can be reached at

  65. i was really little, so i only have a couple clear memories of Lion Country Safari, along with some vague images.

    i remember the machines you put quarters in and got the wax/plastic molded animals. the smell of the freshly-created plastic animals was great(to a kid!)and i still have 4 of the animals.
    i also remember a car in front of us, like an original Volkswagen, being surrounded by lions and one lion took that car's back bumper in its mouth and bounced it up and down for a LONG time... everyone was screaming! it was fantastic.

    i was excited to read one of the comments about the hippo paddle boats, because i have a memory of those and i didn't know where my memory was from... i swear i saw those in Long Beach California's El Dorado Park... maybe they ended up with those boats?? but you know, a toddler's memory CAN be foggy!

  66. i was really little, so i only have a couple memories of Lion Country Safari. i remember the machines you put quarters in and got the wax/plastic molded animals. the smell of the freshly-created plastic animals was great(to a kid!)and i still have 4 of the animals. i also remember a car in front of us, like an original Volkswagen, being surrounded by lions and one lion took that car's back bumper in its mouth and bounced it up and done... everyone was screaming! it was fantastic.
    i was excited to read about the hippo paddle boats because i have a memory of those and i didn't know from where... i swear i saw those in Long Beach California's El Dorado Park, but you know, a toddler's memory CAN be foggy!

  67. The only time I ever visited LCS was also during a company picnic that my dad's job had. It was probably in the early 80s/ Wonder if we there at the same time! It was really cool. I just remember driving slowly and watching the animals. It's great to hear everyone's memories!

  68. I absolutely loved LCS. I would take relatives there that were from out of town, or just go by myself several times a year. I remember thinking that the guys that drove the Jeeps were really cute with their safari hats and all.

    One of my good friends worked there, and I remember he used to bring home baby lion cubs. The reason he got to bring them home was that he had to feed them every couple hours or so.

    At the time, both of us had horses at a private stable that his Dad owned, and I even remember him bringing a baby giraffe to the stables one day. We let it run in the enclosed arena and played with it. So weird to be able to be up close to wild animals, as babies they are very much like domestic cats or horses, just so playful and full of it, but bigger and more powerful.

    I do remember when Bubbles escaped. I remember seeing her in the mud pond by the side of the road over the hill from LCS. She seemed very happy there! Seemed like it was off Laguna Canyon Road or something, by where they used to sell strawberries on the side of the road in the summer.

    I also remember always looking for Frazier's cross on the hill. In fact, I STILL look for it, but I think they took it down because it's not there anymore.

  69. I remember one weekend in the early 70's going there with my parents in our 1969 dark green mustang.My mother wore a bright purple costume necklace that day and as we passed by the ostriches they started pecking at the windshield infatuated with Mom's jewelry.Well, let me tell you I've never seen my Mom so startled in my life!! To this day although my parents are in poor health,they still talk about that day! Also remember seeing Fraiser the lion close-up he was quite a celebrity in his day,sitting there with his tounge hanging out and all the lionesses sitting around him he was quite the king.You can still see his grave site on the hill above what was once the park also in the ampitheatre there were still some of the zebra-stripped vehicles parked in back.In Florida[West Palm]there's another Lion Country Safari like the one in O.C. took my grandson there recently and it brought back fond memories.

  70. I remember going to lion country safari for the first time in 1979 on a field trip with my 7 grade class from el monte. it seemed so far. It was a wonderful place back then. i went around 5 times total but i do remember the boat ride, safari jungle jeep ride, and lots of barn yard animals you could touch. My last visit was in 1982 and i remember how sad i was because of the was so deteriorated. i wonder if a park like this would do well in these days with all the crap that is going on. i can just see some looser gang member taking a gun to a park like this and shoot some animals. so i guess it wouldnt work in today life style. life was so much better back then.

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  73. Hey does anyone remember a Mark N todd Quinn?. if i remember there dad ran the LCS for a lil while. back in the 70s.i went to Trabuco Canyon school with Mark N todd. they were a;ways bringin home wild anamials.Ive seen a bunch of pics after the place closed down. kinda scary. looks like the real deal now everything all grown over.

  74. My husband and I went on safari with Bill York in Kenya. Couple of years later when Lion Country was up and running, we visited. Because we were friends with Bill we went behind the more public areas. Two things I remember particularly. Somewhere I have snapshots of me holding two tiger cubs - an incredible armload. The other memory was of my incredible stupidity. We were jeeping around the roads; staff were throwing real meat chunks onto the vehicle and lions were enjoying their 'snack'. I love cats - all kinds and sizes and without thinking rolled down my window - to pet one, maybe? Bill ROARED at me, "Woman, shut the window!" which I did of course - fortunately before I became another snack.
    vivian in alameda

  75. I will always remember Lion Country. I remember the jeeps painted like zebras. Does anyone remember the machines that you could put a coin in and it would make a wax mold of the animal of your choice? Whenever I smell hot, melting wax, I think of that! I live in Pennsylvania now but the best years of my life were spent growing up in OC. I tell my husband all the time about Lion Country and he is amazed. They just never had anything like that in western Pennsylvania! I remember going on a grade school field trip (went to Killybrooke) and we were each assigned an animal. We had to observe and study about the animal and then write a report! I think I had to write about the antelopes! What great memories!

  76. I just wanted to let you know that the space that was LCS is NOT JUST wild rivers and the verizon ampitheather. a large part of what was LCS including where the 'gater pit (boats) were is part of a site that in the summer is used as an amazing summer day camp, currently called camp james previously was known as camp fraizer (after the lion) i used to work at camp james and absolutely loved it! its the best day camp i've ever worked at and work highly recommend it! there is still a lake and some areas where it still looks 'jungle' like. very nice space!

  77. kami rader, Hermosa Beach, CAAugust 03, 2009 11:53 PM

    I remember Frazier so well.....he was beautiful and I loved him as if he was my own lion. Although I was very young I have never forgotten him nor have I forgotten how much I loved him and how still to this day I think about him often and wish he was still here. I am so graetful that I had the opportunity to have this unique experience with such an amazing animal like Frazier! He was truly loved and admired and missed by me.
    I still look for his cross that used to rest on his grave on top of the hill above the park. (now Verizon Theatre)

  78. I worked there back in was so amazing being able to work with all the wild animals...I will never forget that experience...Just wish I had some pictures from most of it...I only have a few...Does anyone know where you can find some pictures from 1974-1976....Thanks!

  79. im 22 years old, obviously never had the chance to see lion country, but for some reason im enamored by all the history. i just read every single one of your comments. thank you for sharing

  80. One of the best articles U have ever found.... Now Im just looking for a Marineland memories site.

  81. I visited Lion Country Safaris in 1972 as a guest of the organisation. I worked for the Natal Parks Board , the organisation responsible for conserving the rhino in its native habitat in Umfolozi Game Reserve . I administered the contract along with Bill York of LCS to supply surplus White Rhino of which approx. 150 of the original 300 ordered were consigned before problems caused the contract to fold. What became of all these rhino.


  83. My name is Donna Babi (Voet) at the time I worked there....worked alot with Brock and the was amazing...I am looking for my boss Michael Hartley and Bob....I miss them...does anyone know where they are?? if so..send me a email at It was a fun place....I remember getting to be in the Hollywood Lane Parade at Christmas...was wondering if anyone had pics...thanks

  84. I also worked there between 1974 and 1976 and I do have a pic of me and Pam holding Tigers getting ready to show them....if anyone has anymore please send them to my email... ..thanks

  85. I was a young child back when Fraser the Lion was buried on the hill and my dad was there in the gravesite at Fraser's buriel.

    I will never forget The Lion Country Safari, Great Memories - Annette Fraser

  86. I barely remember visiting there as I was only about 5 or 6. But I do recall the big llama coming up to our window and slobbering on the sideview mirror thinking it was going to eat it!! They had a playground too, that I remember playing on with my brother, and the toys there were animal-shaped. What a wonderful place to take the family, too bad it's gone now.

  87. I have a suggestion for all of the old LION COUNTRY SAFARI (LCS) employees – let’s start a Facebook page we can all join and post pictures and stories, who knows we might even get a reunion going…
    Frank Tartaglio LCS maintenance guy from 1970 – thru – 1975
    My email is

  88. I grew up In Buena Park. The visit I remember the most was a lioness jumping in the back of my step dad's truck and me screaming because a big lioness was looking in the window at us. The lioness started to dig at something in the truck bed and up she came with a tow rope. She jumped out of the truck and another lioness and her were playing tug of war with it. I wish we could have found the people in the car behind us because they were taking pictures of the whole thing.

  89. There's some great photos of Lion Country Safari back in 1975 at:

  90. LCS was a great place during the day -- hours of entertainment and someplace our Moms didn't mind dropping us off to spend the day during the summer. It was even cooler though at night... I can't believe nobody here talked about sneaking through LCS to get into concerts at Irvine Meadows. I grew up in South County and it was practically a right of passge when you got to high school. Saw Bon Jovi, Elvis Costello, Police, Styx, and tons of other bands that way -- it was a little scary given the proximity to the wild animals so you had to make sure you didn't deviate from the proper path and wind up on the wrong side of the enclosure, but great great memories!

  91. i love the ostrich that would peck on your car windows oh what memories ca 73

  92. I remember LCS. We moved to Mission
    Viejo in 71 and went there several or more times. I remember Bubbles the hippo and her escape. It was so sad. What great memories! Life was much more simple in the late 60's and 70's when I was growing up.

  93. I remember Lion Country so well! My folks and I went there a number of times. One time in particular, it was just my Mom and I, and we got into a rather precarious position: my mom, driving the car, stopped to look at a baby rhino, not noticing that the mother was on my side of the car...with her long, very sharp horn on the car window, and not a ranger in sight! I *ahem*, pointed this problem out to my mom, and we got out of there in a hurry, before that mama rhino skewered our car! We also enjoyed the outdoor cafe, with peafowl and other birds walking around...we were in hysterics when a peacock decided to hoist up his tail and show off to the hens, and we could see his scrawny rump and legs! ^o^

    There was one time, when we were driving down to San Juan Capistrano to attend Mass, on I-5, when we passed the field across from the Speedway, and I saw a gnu (wildebeest) standing calmly in the middle of it, munching away. I couldnt believe what i was seeing! But it was in the field that had LCS on the other side of it, so I guess it had jumped the fence, or got out a gate. We stopped at a gas station and called in a report on the 'escapee'...never heard anything about it past that. But it was weird to see that. But Joy Adamson, the author of "Born Free", had said that if all the signs of human occupation were not there, Southern California looked just like the part of Africa where she had lived.

  94. I went once with my family in the early 80's. We had a blast and my Dad bought a device called "The Playbuoy" made of waxed rope with 2 handles on each side and you would stretch the rope to zip the little buoy back and forth to your opponent. Good Times, my dad still has the game and breaks it out every once in a while.

    I heard the park closed because some kid stuck his head out the window and it got chomped by a lion? Probly just an urban legend. LOL

  95. Oh my God! About 1982 or 1983 I was a Marine Sergeant stationed at MCAS El Toro, and one night my good friend Corporal Ed Tieman and I saw the fence with a sign that stated "Keep Out! Trespassers will be Eaten!" We were drunk from a night of partying, and young and daring, and Marines... so we pulled over, got out of the car, and climbed over the fence. Between us, we had one weapon--a very small pocket knife in my pocket. I pulled it out and opened it, and we stalked along together, HOPING to get to the other side alive. We walked along in almost complete darkness (among lions), reached the other side, climbed the fence on the other side, and nearly DIED with relief and astonishment! Then, drunk as we were, we walked back around the fence-line to my car, lay down in the middle of the Interstate and did the "dead bug" as cars swerved around us. Then we went back to the barracks. Definitely not one of my proudest moments, but I am still amazed that we survived it! Oh my God! Among the STUPIDEST things I have done in my lifetime, and I have done SO MANY!

  96. It is now a bunch of houses.....

  97. We went through it sometime around 1973. It was ok, nothing spectacular. My dad rolled down the driver's window to take a clearer super8mm movie and we were yelled at through their speaker system to roll up the!!!! My mom was mad at my dad for rolling it down. They called out our car, color and license plate...too funny!

  98. I lived in Costa Mesa and a friend of mine who went to Matei Dei H.S. was a ranger at LCS. He once brought home one of the chimpanzee's (named Umpha)......we all went over to his house and this chimp was CRAZY! Umpha raised so much hell the neighbors threatened to call the cops that my friend had to take Umpha back to LCS and no more bringing him back home for the weekends.....We laughed our asses off and got to visit LCS many times. I also remember Bubbles escaping and running off into the Laguna Hills......Dave S.

  99. I worked at Lion Country. The posts that you all made bring back fond memories of the place! I was there in 1976 and 1977 until they found out that I lied about my age to work there. I was 16 and they thought I was 22. Had a lot of great times working with Crazy Arnold!!!

  100. I worked at Lion Country. All your posts bring back fond and funny memories. I worked there in 1976 and 1977, until they found out that I was 16 and not 22. Have a lot of good memories and funny ones as I worked with "Crazy Arnold K..." I even dated the circus girl Heidi who spent the summer teaching me to walk a high wire. I was very sucessful at this and dumped her when I found out that her dad was hinting on me marrying her!!! Wanted no part of that!!! LOL...


  102. I worked at Lion Country. The posts that you all made bring back fond memories of the place! I was there in 1976 and 1977 until they found out that I lied about my age to work there. I was 16 and they thought I was 22. Had a lot of great times working with Crazy Arnold!!!

  103. I went two times at least on vacation. It was sooooo exciting!!!!! My Grandma would roll down her window n the Giraffes would put their lips in looking for treats. And seeing all the wildlife was so great. I had my "FRAIZER FOREVER" button till about ten years ago.

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  105. LCS....worked there around 78-79, but my first visit was just months after they opened. School field trip. An elephant burst it's trunk through the back window of the bus. We were all in second grade. We were all screaming and crying except for one crazy kid, Martin Samstag. He jumped up with a wild smile and crazy look on his face and grabbed the tusk and held on as it swung him up in the air....The old fat lady bus driver started cussing up a storm , slammed the bus in gear and drove about 40 miles an hour back to the big "ivory towers" admin building. It was great.

    1. Forget Jurassic Park, I want to see a movie done of all the stories lived/told by the employees.

  106. So many stories are rushing back......I remember one lunch break, Issac the baby chimp stole my soda. He just snatched it and jumped up into the rafters of the table covering. He was still in diapers at the time and he just sucked down that entire coke in about three seconds. Well at the next "show" Issac was in, he was just wildly uncontrollable. Wacked out on sugar and caffeine.
    I remember Shawna the Elan, everybody hated her. The girls at the front gate would have to feed her pamphlets to try and lure her back into the park. She just had no fear. She was huge, had big horns and knew how to use them. Once I tried to get her back using the jeep but she just kept putting her head down and ramming her horns into the grill. I finally got her back inside the gate a few feet but she just went up a little incline and stood there waiting , giving me a look that said" I'm just gonna do it again as soon as you leave". That kind of pissed me off, so I just rammed the zebra jeep into the dirt ridge she was standing on.In the explosion of dirt and dust all you saw was Shawna's fat ass as she high tailed it to the other end of the enclosure. We sure beat the hell out of those Zebra Jeeps but they sure were fun.

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  108. I loved being stationed at MCAS(Helicopter), Santa Ana, CA 1972-74. Lion Country Safari was outside the Air Station's rear gate on the way to MCAS, El Toro; I also enjoyed being so close to Disneyland, Angels Stadium, Huntington & Laguna Beaches. It was, in my himble opinion, the very best duty station any Marine could have served at, .. at least back in the mid 70's!


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