Lion Country’s new owner plans to expand conservation, education at zoo


The founder of a Connecticut-based wildlife center, who also has ties to Wellington’s equestrian community, plans to buy Lion Country Safari in western Palm Beach County in a deal that is expected to be finalized during the third quarter of the year.

Marcella Leone, founder and director of the nonprofit Leo Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich, Conn., has “agreed to purchase America’s first cage-less zoo,” Lion Country said Tuesday in a news release announcing the impending sale.

VIDEO: Lion Country Safari Exhibits: Extinct oryx thrive at the park

Leone’s husband, Peter, won a silver medal for show-jumping at the 1996 Summer Olympics and is part of Wellington’s equestrian scene. The couple also owns and operates Lionshare Farms, an equestrian facility on 100 acres in Greenwich.

“Since 1967, Lion Country Safari has been a leader in animal conservation and display,” the park said in the news release. “While continuing to build on this foundation, Leone will significantly expand upon the park’s conservation and education programs. There are plans to bring many new and exciting species to Palm Beach County.”

RELATED: Is Lion Country being sold?

Reached by phone Tuesday, Leone said she plans to continue operating the for-profit safari, including its amusement park, alongside her nonprofit zoological center.

“Our plan is to expand upon the foundation that is created,” Leone said. “I have a true love for that place and for animals. I just want to continue to improve it and expand on what they are already doing.”

Among the species that she plans to bring to the park: a cheetah and a colony of African penguins.

“My interests are in the preservation of our natural world, and just making sure that Lion Country can be a successful entity,” she said.

Leone, an heiress to the Liberty Travel empire, said she travels to Wellington during the winter equestrian season — a trip she’s made for the past three decades. During that time, she’s watched Lion Country grow.

Two years ago, her Connecticut-based wildlife center partnered with Lion Country on an educational program about cheetahs. As part of the program, a cheetah that was bred at the Leo Zoological Conservation Center was brought to Lion Country for the winter.

“It really is a wonderful place,” she said.

Lion Country’s employees were reportedly told about the sale on Monday.

RELATED: Lion Country named one of the world’s “Top 10 Savanna Exhibits”

Lion Country, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is one of the county’s top tourism attractions. The park is home to more than 900 animals. It also features five rides and a water sprayground.

But it’s the drive-thru safari — with 5 miles of road — allowing visitors to get close to animals such as lions, rhinos, giraffes and ostriches that has made it popular and prestigious.

Earlier this month, Lion Country Safari was named one the best “Savanna Exhibits” in the world, according to a ranking released by Zoo Nation.

The list features the top 10 places in the world to view African wildlife outside of Africa. Lion Country took the 10th spot on Zoo Nation’s list — a ranking it is using to help draw out-of-town visitors to its drive-thru zoo.

The ranking placed Lion Country among A-list attractions, including the top-rated African Plains exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in

Commuters, not tourists, key to Brightline as Orlando pushed to 2020
Commuters, not tourists, key to Brightline as Orlando pushed to 2020

When the first Brightline trains leave the station this summer, expect more commuters than vacationers to fill the seats. All Aboard Florida’s Brightline is on the verge of launching its passenger train service between West Palm Beach and Miami on Henry Flagler’s historic railroad corridor, but officials say it could be three years before...
Condo board term limits measured at time of next election

Question: My question is in reference to your recent column regarding board term restrictions. Am I correct in assuming that, as you understand it, the law passed this year is effective as of eight years ago? That is, someone who has been a board member for eight consecutive years (four two-year terms) as of today must meet the new statutory requirements...
Gander Mountain to lay off all employees at Palm Beach Gardens store
Gander Mountain to lay off all employees at Palm Beach Gardens store

Gander Mountain, an outdoor clothing and gear retailer, announced Thursday it plans to lay off all 59 employees at its Palm Beach Gardens store as part of its bankruptcy and sale to Camping World.  A going out of business sale continues at the Gander Mountain store off of Northlake Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on June...
Amid usual summer slowdown, Palm Beach County jobless rate rises a bit
Amid usual summer slowdown, Palm Beach County jobless rate rises a bit

Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate ticked up to 4.3 percent in June as the region’s job market went into its usual summer slowdown. In one sign that this year’s summer doldrums might not last long, the county’s jobless rate was well below the 5 percent unemployment reported in June 2016. In another spark, employers in Palm...
Trump hopes to hire 76 foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago, Trump National
Trump hopes to hire 76 foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago, Trump National

President Donald Trump hopes to hire 76 foreign workers for low-wage jobs at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter for the 2017-18 tourist season. The request won’t be affected by the Trump administration’s move this week to offer 15,000 new visas for temporary workers in low-wage jobs. That’s because...
More Stories