lion at Out of Africa zoo

I wrote this post on a Wordpress site many years ago and can only find one of the original photos, so this is an updated picture I took from one of my many visits to their newest location.

Before moving to Arizona, my son and I took a trip to visit my Mom in Mesa. One of our most memorable daytrips was to visit Out of Africa which was located in Fountain Hills, before its move to Camp Verde. At the time they were much closer to my Mom’s house in Mesa, AZ.

We’re animal lovers

My son Chad and I are true animal lovers. My Mom had mentioned Out of Africa Wildlife Park so without knowing what it was all about, Chad and I decided to make a day trip. It was 110 degrees that day and although the sweat was dripping down my back, I turned to Chad and casually mentioned, “It’s a little hot today.”This coming from a Chicago native. By the way, we were there in June or July, so it was summertime in Arizona and we loved it.

A little Out of Africa history

I have mixed feelings about zoos. Many of them claim they are for animal conservation but there are so many zoos that make me sad because of the small enclosures these beautiful exotic animals are kept in.

This park was created in 1988 by married couple Dean and Prayeri Harrison. They don't call it a zoo, they call it a preserve and a wildlife park. It all started when they were living in California and they took in a baby leopard cub. They ended up taking in other exotics and moved to Oregon where they opened a different animal viewing concept called Tigerville.

They had dreams of living in Arizona so that is when they moved their animal park to Fountain Hills. That's when we got to visit and we continue visiting in the new location at Camp Verde.

It looked like a dump

When we pulled up my heart sank and I almost turned around and left. We sat in the car a minute and asked each other if we wanted to go in. As animal lovers, we decided to give it a try. We’re both so glad we did.

Growing up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, we have visited the Chicago zoos - Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo. I was older when I went to Lincoln Park Zoo for the first time and I kind of like it better than Brookfield Zoo, but I think it's because it's not as big and it's a beautiful area.

But nothing prepared us for the closeness to the animals at Out of Africa. I swear, we were separated from wolves with a heavy-duty chicken wire-looking fence. You could feel the breeze as they walked past and I swear you could feel their breath. It was amazing!

Cougars and bears and college students – all in the same cage!

As soon as we arrived we were told a show was beginning so we hustled over to a large caged-in area with a pool in the middle. There we witnessed a show combining bears, cougars, and some college kids playing with them. The kids would run around with a toy dangling from a stick and a bear or cougar would be behind them. They would make it around the pool and throw the toy in the pool and the animal would dive in after the toy. We sat there with our mouths open, and I was wondering what kind of legal "hold-harmless" rider these kids had to sign to work there. I also wondered how many mishaps occurred over the years. These were full-grown animals.

During the show, we were told a story explaining that the bears and cougars actually shared an enclosure. They used to also share it with wolves but it was discovered that the wolves would scare the bears and the cougars into the trees. So they removed the wolves and the other two species got along OK. I've always loved asking people what animal they thought scared the others and had to be removed from a co-living situation - bears, cougars, or wolves. Most didn't answer correctly.

A very interactive place

the boa constrictor snake feeding at Out of Africa Wildlife ParkThis picture is the only one I can find from our first visit to the Fountain Hills location. It was a show where a humongous boa constrictor snake was put out in a fenced area and fed. They had a dead rabbit and the snake wasn’t hungry. As we watched this not-hungry snake just kind of lay around, it started to feel like watching water boil so we left and viewed the rest of the animals.

They still have the snake feeding show at the new facility. It is close to the tiger splash pool and the snack area.

We were able to feed the giraffes and there was a tiger feeding time slot – but unfortunately, we spent so much time there and knew my Mom was making dinner for us so we had to leave before the next tiger feeding time. Darn!

We didn’t want to leave

We were having such a good time we did not want to leave. Time flew by and we knew my Mom would be upset if we didn’t make it home for dinner. We could see we were going to be late and I guess we didn’t bring our cell phones with us as the staff let us use their phone to call home. We reluctantly left to make it home before the food got too cold. I figured Mom would be upset but she wasn’t.

Because it was so hot that day, Chad and I decided to take a dip in the pool after dinner. We got into our suits but when we went outside and dipped our toes in, we both thought the water was too cold. We didn’t go in. Mom couldn’t believe it and replied "Too cold! Are you kidding me?!" Remember, it had hit 110 degrees that day. We do not represent Chicago very well, do we?

They had to move

Unfortunately, we caught them in their last year at that location. My Mom told me it was on Native American land and Out of Africa had to move. They moved around an hour and a half away to Camp Verde. But they were closed for some time before the move, so we never saw them at their original spot again.

Someone at the park responded to this post on my prior website. He wrote, "I just came across your “blog” and would love to invite you to visit us at our new location in Camp Verde. We are now on 104 acres and 6 times larger than we were in Fountain Hills." He wasn't kidding, and we've been to the new park many times. It's usually a must-see place for any new visitors.

They are now located at:
3505 W. Camp Verde Bridgeport Highway | Camp Verde, AZ  86322

For GPS or driving directions only use:
3505 W. SR-260 | Camp Verde, AZ  86322

I always order our tickets online. Their website is here.

Posted by Judy Orr on
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