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 Royal Windsor Safari Park was founded in 1969 by the Smart brothers Billy Jnr., David and Ronald. Built on St Leonards Hill in Windsor in Berkshire, England, the 144 acre estate of rolling parkland and known as the St Leonards Estate included a 110 room country house owned by the American Horace Elgin Dodge Jnr of Dodge Motor Cars.
A key attraction at Windsor Safari Park was Seaworld, a dolphinarium complex housing dolphins, a killer whale, penguins and sea lions performing acrobatic displays for members of the public.
Windsor Safari Park was proactive in dolphin research and conservation, employing many wildlife 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.
The Safari Park owed its success in part to the unique natural roaming habitats that had been created for lions, tigers, cheetahs and baboons. A Serengeti zone was also added (featuring camels, llamas, giraffes, zebras and buffalo), an elephant enclosure, a hippo lake, a parrot and a monkey jungle
The Safari Park grew significantly throughout the 1970s and '80s and was eventually sold to Themes International in 1988. The new owners vision was to develop an African themed-park introducing themed eateries and games and attractions such as the African Queen Riverboat Ride.
Themes International invested £11m developing the business but after 9 years ran into financial difficulties, the Windsor business in particular had experienced dwindling visitor numbers, the situation exacerbated by the recession and the building of expensive new Egyptian-themed entrance courtyard and similarly themed market streets.
Themes International and the Safari Park entered receivership in January 1992 with debts of £40m and closed shortly afterwards, the expensive new developments left largely unused.
The park was purchased soon afterwards by the Lego Group whose ambition was 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)