African Lion Safari®
When retired Canadian army colonel Gordon Dailley founded the African Lion Safari® in 1969, his vision was to provide a unique experience for guests while creating a safe place where endangered animals and birds could thrive. After an expansive search, he settled on property outside Hamilton, Ontario that he considered ideal for vast reserves where wild animals could freely roam. He created African Lion Safari.
The original idea of “maintaining self-sustaining populations of species in decline” has remained the park’s top priority. Over the years, African Lion Safari has breed 30 endangered species and 20 threatened species. Today, African Lion Safari is situated on 750 acres where animals roam while the visitors are “caged” in their vehicles. During their visits, guests see lions, zebra, giraffe, white rhino, ostrich, watusi, kangaroo and many other exotic species interacting in a natural environment.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Karen O’Grady Director of Special Projects about the unique experience the park provides for visitors and its remarkable wildlife breeding program. African Lion Safari is a privately owned company that does not receive government funding or subsidies. The profits from tickets purchased by visitors, contribute to the park’s ongoing breeding programs, research and development and wildlife conservation both at the park and in range countries.
An entertaining and educational experience
African Lion Safari’s mission is to provide an entertaining and educational environment in which to display and propagate animals in a safe manner that gives a unique viewing opportunity to all of their visitors.
“It’s the parks unique design concept that enables visitors to get close to animals. Visitors drive through large game reserves in their own vehicle and are able to experience animals roaming free,” explains O’Grady. “You’re visiting their space. You see them walking, grazing, nurturing and raising their young. It’s a gift and joy to be able to see animals in a natural environment and to be able to share this experience with your children.”
African Lion Safari also offers other presentations and tours that are designed to educate and nurture respect for animals and their natural habitats. Visitors can enjoy three bird and animal presentations featuring Parrot Paradise, Birds of Prey Flying Demonstration, Elephant Round Up as well as two nature tours, and the daily Elephant Swim. It is the Safari’s hope that visitors are able gain a better appreciation for wildlife, learn why some are endangered and what African Lion Safari and its staff are trying to do about it.
Recently, the park introduced a new VIP experience, “Wake Up the Wild,” an exclusive behind-the- scenes adventure that gives visitors the opportunity to experience the morning routines of animals before the park opens.
“Wake Up The Wild was developed in response to many customer inquiries for a behind the scenes experience” O’Grady explains. Visitors get to experience a pride of lions at their most active time of day; walking, running, devouring their morning meal. The tour then continues off road on an open air truck to come within a metre of the endangered rhino, zebra and ostrich. Visitors get the opportunity to hand feed Canada’s largest herd of Giraffe. Wake Up The Wild is so unique it has been designated an Ontario Signature Experience!
Conservation and protection of endangered animals
In 1975, African Lion Safari was a founding member of the Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (formerly the Canadian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquarium). It has earned an international reputation for excellence in the care, management and breeding of many endangered birds and animals. The park has initiated ground breaking research projects in the fields of animal welfare, reproduction, behavior, nutrition and conservation. Dedicated staff play an integral part in the success of the park’s conservation and breeding initiatives.
Over the years, African Lion Safari has been able to breed animals that are notoriously difficult to breed. These animals include the Asian elephant, cheetah, rhino, Rothschild giraffe and an array of birds. O’Grady says its breeding programs have been successful because the animals live in a natural environment that is similar to life in the wild. They have plenty of space to roam, engage in natural physical activity, and live in herds with other species.
“The fact that you have the rhino residing with giraffe, with zebra, with ostrich—much like they would in the wild—is a key component that contributes to the park’s thriving breeding program,” O’Grady explains. “When species are mixed, this stimulates competition among each species and the internal desire to reproduce.”
In particular, African Lion Safari maintains one of the most remarkable conservation programs for Asian elephants in the world and is proud to manage a vibrant and cohesive multi-generational herd. “We had great success with them being able to reproduce naturally,” she explains. “A lot of that, again, is attributed to their enriched environment. They are physically and mentally stimulated and they are an active herd that live in a cohesive matriarchal group. But the key was exercise and mental stimulation, which, again, our wildlife park was set up for.”
African Lion Safari enthusiastically shares its breeding know-how with other conservation efforts worldwide. It supports in-situ projects such as species reintroduction for the Eastern Loggerhead shrike, Burrowing owl, Ferruginous hawk, and Barn owl. Its staff travel worldwide to provide training and support, improving the conservation, management and welfare of many species. Its efforts in providing technical training in elephant husbandry and welfare, data collection, community relations and conservation education have been successful.
“The ultimate goal is that we’d like to take that research—the assisted-reproductive technology that we’ve developed, learned and harnessed at African Lion Safari—and transfer that to wild populations.”