Lion Country Safari: Amazing photos, close encounters with lions, apes


For the 50th anniversary of Lion Country Safari this month, we asked readers for their memories of the Loxahatchee park. Readers recalled a time when park rangers would put raw meat on visitors’ cars to draw lions closer. Some visitors were even allowed to feed or cuddle with lion cubs, in the years before regulations were changed.

RELATED: Lion Country Safari sold to new owner

RELATED: The Post’s photos of Lion Country wildlife over 50 years

Here are your recollections:

In Loxahatchee on a quiet night with just the right westerly breeze you could hear the magnificent, beautiful roar of the lions. — Meg Nocera, Boynton Beach

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Joan Anderson, of Palm Beach Gardens, recalled taking a van full of rehab clients to the park: It was a cool day, there were a lot of animals out. All of a sudden a rhinoceros was running toward us, we speeded up but couldn’t go too fast because of safety for the animals. The rhino caught up with us, rammed the backside of the van with his horn, making a big dent. No one was hurt. It was a scary but exciting day. The clients loved it! The icing on the cake was explaining to the board members, “a rhinoceros did it.”

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On opening day, our honored guest was the governor of Florida (Claude Kirk, Jr.). Claude had a baby lion cub in his arms at the ribbon cutting. The cub scratched the governor…who said, “Claude just got clawed.” — Thomas Eissey, North Palm Beach, whose Overland Construction Company built Lion Country Safari’s buildings.

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Curt Rich,who lives in the Acreage, worked at a gas station near Lion Country Safari the day it opened: The line of cars stretched for miles on that two lane highway all heading west. Cars being what they were back then, they started to over-heat as they sat there, just barely moving only a few feet at a time. We were swamped with them pulling in with empty gas tanks, busted water hoses and a myriad of car breakdowns. We ran out of spare hoses, new tires and fan belts before the day was over.

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My husband and I were visiting Lion Country Safari sometime in the late seventies. We noticed a Lion Country Safari employee holding a baby gibbon ape. We made our way over to get an up close look at the baby. Before we could even ask our first question, the gibbon leaped from the handler’s arms into mine and proceeded to snuggle in near my neck! Surprised but thrilled, I asked if the ape was always this friendly. The handler’s reply, “No, he usually bites!” — Linda Ford, Boynton Beach

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About 48 years ago, my mother, Deanna Campbell, was a circulation manager for the Palm Beach Post Times. Some of her newspaper delivery boys had earned a free trip to Lion Country Safari. We were riding in my mom’s station wagon, in which the air conditioning was not working. It was a hot day and we had the windows rolled down. It was raining a little bit and mom had the windshield wipers on. Well, one of the lions got up on the passenger’s side of the car where I was sitting and started going after the windshield wiper. — Janice Pietro, Okeechobee

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In 1971, a LCS manager made arrangements for me and my son to visit the nursery on several occasions where we could play with and feed the cubs, some of which were not so little. He arranged to have a piece of raw meat put on my front bumper on the drive-through making my car (very) popular. — Carol Thomas, West Palm Beach

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Years ago the animals were not restricted as they are now. They roamed everywhere. You had to drive very carefully as they went right up to your vehicle, even lions laying in the road itself. We were told to keep our windows closed but I disobeyed to get some photos. A game warden who sat up in the trees with a megaphone scared me half to death when he yelled out for me to close my window and get my camera inside the vehicle. — Carol Cella, Delray Beach

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During a visit in 1978 or 1979, we piled out of our car past the camel. Suddenly, we heard our son shout out in surprise and pain! The camel, whom our son later told us had been licking the salt off his leg, suddenly chomped down on his calf, lifted our son into the air and began to swing him back and forth! My husband rushed back to grab my son, but the camel would not release him! Instead my husband made a fist and punched the camel in the nose. Finally he released our son. The boy had bruise marks on his calf for over half a year. — Janeen Kraham, Wellington

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Riding around, we saw a herd of rhinos. As a they approached on the left side of my truck they started to stampede towards us. They went around my truck and didn’t hit us. It was like the seas were parting. After it was over, we saw that they were served food on the other side of the road to the right rear of us. They were running to eat and we were in their path. We thought for sure we were in trouble the day we survived a rhino stampede. — Lee Pinder, West Palm Beach

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A curious ostrich came up to our car. It pecked at our window a few times and strutted around the front of our car. It stood in front of our car with his hind parts facing us. Of course we yielded to the animal and waited for it to move — never in a million years expecting to have a front row seat to what was the grossest and most up close and personal performance we had ever seen in our lives. — Suellen Mucci

Keep coming back to mypalmbeachpost.com for more stories on the 50th anniversary of Lion Country Safari.



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