Framework

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Jan. 23, 1974: Bettie Kym Young gets a close-up view of a tiger. Young, Miss Los Angeles Chinatown, was at Lion Country Safari in Irvine to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Tiger. This photo was published on Jan. 25, 1974, in the Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Feb. 2, 1971: A curious ostrich gives a driver the once-over.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Joe Kennedy / Los Angeles Times

Nov. 11, 1984: The final day at Lion Country Safari. This photo was published in the Nov. 12, 1984, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gail Fisher / Los Angeles Times

Jan. 2, 1978: A startled motorist gets more than he bargained for. Damage to the car's fender was slight, and the rhino quickly lost interest and moved on. This photo was published in the Jan. 3, 1978, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times

June 15, 1970: A eland and giraffe exercise their right-of-way privileges at Lion Country Safari. This photo was published in the June 17, 1970, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mary Frampton / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 31, 1975: Visitors move carefully through a parade of ostriches. This photo was published in the Jan. 4, 1976, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Larry Anderson / Los Angeles Times

April 14, 1978: A tiger gives a special welcome to a busload of visitors. This photo was published in the April 15, 1978, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

April 6, 1982: Rafiki the elephant looks over her newborn calf at Lion Country Safari. The baby was about 200 pounds and 3 feet tall at birth. This photo was published in the April 7, 1982, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

April 1972: Frasier and family members take a nap at Lion Country Safari. This photo was published in the April 30, 1972, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Deris Jeannette / Los Angeles Times

April 1972: Frasier and friend taking a nap at Lion Country Safari. This photo was published in the April 30, 1972, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Deris Jeannette / Los Angeles Times

March 14, 1972: Frasier, an aging, toothless lion, sired dozens of cubs at Lion Country Safari. This photo was published in the Oct. 12, 1972, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Associated Press

Feb. 15, 1978: Bubbles the hippo and her 800-pound daughter at Lion Country Safari between escapes. The next time Bubbles got out, she died during recapture efforts. This photo was published in the Feb. 16, 1978, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Deris Jeannette / Los Angeles Times

March 6, 1978: Bubbles, the Lion Country Safari's wandering hippo, ventures out of a pond she was hiding in near Laguna Canyon Road. This photo was published in the March 7, 1978, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Deris Jeannette / Los Angeles Times

March 11, 1978: Chic Sommers, left, and Wes Baney, senior ranger at Lion Country Safari, after Bubbles the hippo's accidental death during an attempt to retrieve her. This photo was published in the March 12, 1978, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Steve Rice / Los Angeles Times

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Lion Country Safari [updated]

Jan. 23, 1974: Bettie Kym Young of Newport Beach gets a close-up look at a tiger. Young, Miss Los Angeles Chinatown, was at Lion Country Safari to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Tiger.

Irvine is often ranked the safest city in America. But it looked down-right dangerous during the 14 years Lion Country Safari called it home. During those years, families droves their cars through the park – doors locked, windows up — encountering fierce felines and other creatures.

The drive-through, African-themed park opened in 1970. But low attendance plagued the park, leading to its closure 30 years ago this week.

“Scores of cars inched along the paved roadways inside the 100-acre preserve as drivers and passengers sought a final look at the exotic animals that will soon be sold,” The Times reported to closing day.

“Golden-colored lions dozed in the sun and seemed bored by all the fuss, but the ostriches ruffled their feathers at the unusual amount of traffic. A brace of giraffes stalked across the roadway at one point, jamming traffic in both directions. The long-necked animals looked wonderingly at the rows of cars and hundreds of gawking tourists.”

Lion Country Safari created two true animal stars: Frasier the lion and Bubbles, a hippo escape artist.

Frasier the Lion

Frasier came from a bankrupt Mexican circus. He took over the Lion Country pride, sired several dozen lion cubs, and in the process became famous.

After the old, toothless, arthritic but virile lion arrived, the flow of sightseers to Lion Country jumped 10-15%. Three secretaries answered tourists’ letters who want assurance that HE will be there.

“The gift shops sell Frasier T-shirts and postcards and a new line of Frasier watches has joined those featuring Spiro Agnew and Mickey Mouse. Frasier, father of 33 cubs and the human equivalent of 75 years old, appears unchanged,” The Times reported. “He continues hobbling among his pride with his tongue hanging out, sleeping 18 to 20 hours a day, gumming his food, and ignoring the tourists in his territory.”

Fraiser died on July 13, 1972.

Bubbles the Hippo

The 2-ton hippo achieved a measure of Frasier’s fame in 1978 when she managed three escapes from Lion Country Safari.

“Double shifts of rangers, backed up by a low-flying police helicopter, had failed at a late hour Tuesday to come up with any trace of Bubbles, the hippopotamus that has thrice broken out of Lion Country Safari in recent days,” The Times wrote at the time. “Her disappearance on this third escape has given an entirely new meaning to the heretofore preposterous question: “How do you hide a 2-ton hippo?” There is, in fact, an answer – and Bubbles obviously has it.”

After hiding out for over two weeks, Bubbles died while being recaptured on March 10, 1978.

[Update: This post was updated on Nov. 11, 2014, with seven additional photos and related text.]

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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3 Comments

  1. May 25, 2012, 8:51 am

    In the 2nd image what is described as a wildebeast is actually a large African antelope called an Eland.

    By: tomdog
  2. May 25, 2012, 10:03 am

    The days I remember in the Golden State…. the wild wild west! Hello today…. the "Nanny State"!

    By: jcrush13@yahoo.com
  3. May 25, 2012, 6:26 pm

    The caption is corrected. Thanks!

    By: Scott Harrison

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