Windsor Safari Park
Safari Park logo
|Location||Windsor, Berkshire, England, United Kingdom|
Windsor Safari Park was a popular family attraction built on St. Leonards Hill on the outskirts of the town of Windsor in Berkshire, England; it has since been converted into the site of Legoland Windsor. Billed as "The African Adventure", the park included drive-through animal enclosures, aviaries, a dolphinarium and minor theme park rides.
The park's drive-through enclosures featured lions, tigers, bears, cheetahs and baboons. In addition, the park had a Serengeti zone (featuring camels, llamas, giraffes, zebras and buffalo), an elephant enclosure, a hippo lake, chimpanzees, birds of prey, parrots and butterflies.
The park was founded in 1969 by Billy Smart's Circus. Built in the former grounds of Dodge Mansion (which still stands) to house the circus animals, the park became a popular drive-through zoo.
It grew significantly through the 1970s and '80s while the ownership changed several times. During this period the number and range of animals in the park greatly increased, incorporating many new, non-circus animals.
The park was bought by Themes International in the 1980s, who had the intention of building up the theme-park side of the business; many African-themed rides were installed (such as the "African Queen Riverboat Ride") in addition to themed eateries and games.
One of Windsor Safari Park's key attractions was Seaworld, a dolphinarium complex housing dolphins, a killer whale, penguins and sea lions. The dolphins, sea lions and killer whale performed in acrobatic shows several times a day.
Windsor Safari Park was, however, proactive in dolphin research and conservation, employing a great many dolphin experts and academics. Research efforts included the development of a fishing net warning system for dolphins and the Dolphin Research Project aimed to raise funds for other research on sonar communication and behaviour.
In the early 1990s Themes International suffered serious financial problems, specifically for Windsor Safari Park; traditional sources of funding had ceased and visitor numbers proved somewhat cool. The situation was exacerbated by the building of an expensive new Egyptian-themed entrance courtyard and similarly themed market streets.
The park entered receivership in January 1992 and closed shortly afterwards, the expensive new developments left largely unused. The park was purchased soon afterwards by the Lego Group, who intended to create a Legoland theme park similar to the existing Legoland in Billund, Denmark. The resulting Legoland Windsor opened in 1996.
The dolphins were relocated to Dolfinarium Harderwijk in the Netherlands.
The only attraction that remains from the Safari Park days (aside from the mansion) is the 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) funicular railway, now known as the Hill Train, that links The Beginning area of the park with Land Of The Vikings.
The Safari Park in film and television
- To find a clue hanging from a branch of a tree in the lion enclosure, Skyrunner Annabel Croft visited the park in Series 7 of Channel 4's long-running quiz Treasure Hunt in 1989. Annabel, plus her camera crew, were driven in a cage to feed the animals while the contestants remained in the studio with host Kenneth Kendall and adjudicator Wincey Willis.
- A 22-minute video Go Wild at Windsor, narrated by Terry Nutkins and Chris Packham, was released in 1988. It featured footage of many of the animals, the dolphin show, the playpark, and the toboggan run.
- The zoo footage (including the "crazy baboons" scene) in the motion picture The Omen (1976 version) was filmed at Windsor Safari Park.
- The film Mutiny on the Buses (1972) featured the characters Stan and Blakey driving a London bus through the lion enclosure as part of a trial run for a special new bus route.
- The action scenes in the film The Jigsaw Man (1983) with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier were filmed in Windsor Safari Park.
- The British romantic comedy Follow Me (1972) with Mia Farrow and Topol also has a few brief scenes filmed in Windsor Safari Park.
- The Animals Came Out Two by Two: Final Days of Windsor Safari Park, David Taylor, 1988, Robson Books ltd, 224 pages, ISBN 0-86051-868-X.
- Brief history of the Safari Park, including a detailed list (Sourced from "The Animals Came Out Two by Two") of the animals and where they were rehomed after the Park closed.
- Windsor Safari Park at the Royal Windsor web site
- WindsorSafariPark.org.uk fansite
- The Independent: Windsor Safari Park closes but seeks a saviour (26 October 1992)