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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 in The Times on Jan. 25, 1974.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: 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 Times on June 17, 1970.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mary Frampton / Los Angeles Times

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

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gail Fisher / Los Angeles Times

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

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Joe Kennedy / Los Angeles Times

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

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Larry Anderson / 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 Times on Jan. 3, 1978.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times

April 14, 1978: A tiger provides a special welcome for a bus containing blind and near-blind people. This photo was published in The Times on April 15, 1978.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

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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.

The drive-through, African-themed Lion Country Safari opened in Irvine in 1970. For the next 14 years, Times photographers captured the animal and vehicle interaction.

Low attendance at the park led to its 1984 closure.  In a Nov. 12, 1984, Times article, staff writer Bill Billiter reported:

The animals didn’t know it was their closing act.

And so, Sunday was just another day for them at Lion Country Safari in Irvine.

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.…

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.…

Owners of Lion Country Safari, in announcing the scheduled closing of the wild-animal preserve two weeks ago, said it was, indeed, lack of business that forced the move. “This land is so valuable that it no longer makes economic sense to have these animals occupying 100 choice acres,” said Harry Shuster, president of Lion Country Safari Inc., in his announcement.


  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"!

  3. May 25, 2012, 6:26 pm

    The caption is corrected. Thanks!

    By: Scott Harrison

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