There’s a place in Florida where, if you love wild animals, you can get up close and personal with some of the world’s wildest animals without ever getting out of your car.

There is the drooling giraffe with the long tongue, but very cute!

There’s the herd of zebras trying to hitchhike.

There are the ostriches pecking at your car window. Do not lower the window, you could lose a valuable part of your property!

This place in Florida, Lion Country Safari, is so popular that millions of thousands of people have mixed with these animals in the wild since it was established in 1967.

This is not your neighborhood zoo. In fact, some people wouldn’t call it a zoo at all, though you’ll see others rank it as the third best “zoo” in the nation. As a reporter, my job is not to define what is ‘best’ or, for that matter, what is a ‘zoo’.

What Lion Country Safari is is exactly what its creators wanted: a place in Florida where ordinary people could experience the thrill of seeing the same wild animals they would see if they could afford to go to an African game park. Which, as we all know, most of us can’t.

Those creators, a group of South African and British entrepreneurs, were the first to gift American wildlife lovers with a new concept: the “Cage-Free Zoo.”

The success of his idea has been proven by tourists and locals alike who keep coming back for more, and by the dozens of copycats across the country. Think of the San Diego Zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Columbus Zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo, Cincinnati, the Phoenix Zoo and many others.

You’ll hear that this place in Florida was the first “cage-free zoo” in the country. it wasn’t. In 1928, the Detroit Zoo claimed that. But it’s clear that the idea of ​​a walk-through park with 1,000 wild animals making faces at ‘caged’ people helped revolutionize zoo and wildlife management in this country.

The 600-acre Lion Country Safari is located on Loxahatchee (meaning Turtle River, some say), which was, in 1967, in the middle of nowhere in western Palm Beach County. There was a lot of land, a lot of tourists and a lot of good weather. Who wants a lion in their backyard, anyway?

At first, there were only lions, many of them, roaming freely. Over the years, and this is a clue to the success of the attraction, the lions have been joined not only by giraffes, zebras and ostriches, but also by white rhinos, chimpanzees, African elephants, hippos, alpacas, alligators and gazelles, to name just a few species in nature.

By 2005, the lion population had shrunk to accommodate their roommates. But the ones that remained, for some reason, got too frisky for the safety of the tourists on the five-mile drive through their backyard. So now they’re behind a fence along the road, still up close, but not quite as personal.

The fence, they say, was not the fault of the lions. The ‘caged’ people kept opening their car doors. Despite the warnings.

The park has strict rules about vehicles. No convertibles, no pets inside your vehicle, no broken windows on your vehicle, no open windows during the tour, no vehicles being towed, nothing in your truck bed, etc. But, in most cases, rentals are available.

Don’t you get tired of wild animals in the self-service? Hey, go again. You can go as many times as you want with your single ticket.

Tired of it? There is more, much more, another clue to the success of the attraction: Safari World, a theme park with zoo exhibits and amusement park attractions, like a Ferris wheel: a petting zoo, a small water park, performances of animal theater, a petting zoo, nature walk, aviaries, pontoon boat ride, pedal boats, animal-themed merry-go-round, miniature golf, and picnic area. And a place where, yes, you can feed the (disgusting) slimy giraffes.

Are you hungry? Lunch (almost fast food) or dinner (better) is available at the park’s two restaurants. Tired? Spend the night in one of its more than 200 campsites or cabins.

It is obvious that people like this place in Florida, despite the failures in other places in the United States where its creators tried to extend their successes. More than 400,000 people visit Florida’s Lion Country Safari each year.

When the park opened in 1967, cars lined up for miles to enter the park, the timing of which for opening day couldn’t have been better. The song ‘Born Free’, which chronicles the upbringing of an African lioness, Elsa the Lioness, until she grew up and could be freed, had just won an Academy Award. As one of the most popular songs of the decade, it provided the “subliminal hook” for the music of the hit movie “Star Wars,” music that also won an Academy Award in 1977.

In this place in Florida, you will not see Elsa. You probably won’t see lion cubs. But you will see lions, because this is where ‘the lion sleeps tonight’, another famous phrase from another famous song, ‘Wimoweh’, from another time before.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *