The story of Africa, U.S.A. and its proprietors, animal trainer Ralph Helfer and Daktari producer Ivan Tors

My thanks to Walter, a longtime Daktari fan from the Netherlands, for sharing this fascinating article about just what Africa, U.S.A. was all about.

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Animal Kingdom, USA

Out in California flourishes a wild-animal domain located just this side of Unbelievable

by Cleveland Amory for TV Guide April 1966

cheryl miller of daktari with tiger in Africa U.S.A. TV Guide April 1966

Hollywood these days may or may not be still the Land of Make-Believe. But it boasts at leastone place, Africa, U.S.A., which has even the “natives” rubbing their eyes. “I’ve worked here every day for a year,” Marshall Thompson the star of Daktari told me, “and I still don’t believe it.”

To begin with, like most things in Hollywood, it is actually not in Hollywood at all. It is located more than 50 miles northeast, almost surrounded by mountains, in beautiful Soledad Canyon. Here, in simulated “jungleland,” complete with “Zulu” villages, live more than 300 African, Asian and, in fact, world -wild animals-ranging from aardvarks, alligators and anteaters to Xiphosuras, yaks and zebras.

Animal affection trainer Ralph Helfer in the 1960s

Animal affection trainer Ralph Helfer in the 1960s

Founded by animal trainer Ralph Helfer, and now owned and operated by him in partnership with Ivan Tors (producer of Flipper), it is–now that the new acreage is operating–one of the world’s largest zoos, except, of course, that it isn’t really a zoo at all, because it is not open to the public and because a large number of its animals are never caged—even leopards and jaguars seem to roam about almost at will.

Africa, U.S.A., is the place where they film 90 percent of all the difficult animal acts you see-both in the movies and on TV. And to do these, acts has required, among other things, a totally new concept in animal training. Ivan Tors calls it “affection training.” Ralph Helfer calls it “emotion training.” Marshall Thompson doesn’t call it anything–but he says, “All I know is that every night, before 1 go home, I go around and say goodnight to my friends.”

As you approach Africa, U.S.A., you hear it before you can see it. You hear the exciting sounds, the trumpeting of elephants and the roaring of lions and tigers; the eerie sounds, the hooting of owls and the howling of wolves and coyotes and finally the enchanting sounds, the bleating of young antelopes and the chattering of baby chimpanzees. Then, when you actually come upon it, the sight is breath-taking. Off in the distance you actually see the veld—all the way from the galloping giraffes to the high-jumping kudus–and, close by, you also see what they call “Beverly Hills,” which is the residence of the animal “stars.”

Producer Ivan Tors in the 1960s

Producer Ivan Tors in the 1960s

Inside, in front of half a dozen floodlights, grinding cameras and sound trucks, you see a cross-eyed lion spring at a man. On another “stage”– equally surrounded–a chimpanzee is guiding a baby lion on the back of a crocodile. On still a third “stage” vu1tures crowd around while a cheetah attacks a hyena which is attacking Dina Merrill. Off in the distance, also surrounded, a rhinoceros is charging a station wagon filled with people. You’ll shake your head–and, as you do, a full-grown Bengal tiger jumps into a truck for what appears to be a coffee break with a very pretty girl named Cheryl Miller (she’s Paula, of course, in Daktari).

But the most amazing thing of all is, even after the most ferocious appearing “fights,” the animals, the minute the camera stops rolling, break cleanly and come out playing.

If you think, however, it all just happened–you have another thing coming. The telephone rang while I was interviewing Ralph Helfer. “Yes, Ivan,” he said, “I can give it to you Thursday.” He put down the phone. “Ivan asks the darnedest things,” he said. “Sometimes I think he did Daktari just to test us. Do you know what he wants this time? To have an animal crossing a river using a python for a bridge.”

After we had talked a while more, the phone rang again. This time it was a director of another show, who wanted to know if he could have a dog “kill” a lion in a fight. I told him I could,” Helfer said, putting down the phone, “but I want you to know that back of that answer was four years of work.”

I saw a scene that day—a full-grown lion fighting a German shepherd dog, Prince, Ralph’s own personal pet and the animal he prizes even more than any other of his “wild” ones. (“But,” he says, a little sadly, I had to teach Prince to be wild. I didn’t feed him and he foraged on his own to get tough enough for the job.”) “In any case, Prince brought the full-grown lion to bay in a wild, furious, growling, snarling fray. At the end I was sure that Prince would be, at least, a hospital case. Afterward I examined him, and, sure enough, he had to go to the infirmary. He had it seemed, a small cut on his left ear.”

Change in tactics

ralph helfer2

Ralph Helfer with Bruno the bear

In the old days difficult fight scenes were shot either with split-screen photography—which was very expensive—or with glass in between the combatants, or by use of double. In some instances men dressed as gorillas; one famous scene used a “lion” which was actually a St. Bernard. But all of it was, generally speaking, based on the old-school “whip and chair” fear method—one perhaps best exemplified by a curious Bulgarian trainer who was recently quoted in a national magazine as saying, Most animals you got to beat to make them obey.”

Today, to Helfer and Tors, this kind of thing is not only cruel and stupid, it is also not true. Even in the “Beverly Hills” section their animals are not to be confused with Park Avenue’s pampered poodles (“If we did that, says Tors, “we’d get spoiled animals”) but anywhere in Africa, U.S.A., the use of whip, chair or any other means of intimidation is strictly forbidden. One of Ivan Tors’ rules is that, even with the older animals, every one has personal contact with a human every day. “I feel,” he adds, it’s actually a physiological process.” Ralph Helfer adds that it is also a psychological process. “If an animal has only fear of you,” he says, “you can only go so far with him, You say, under the old method, you are going to bring him into your life—or else—and he may come. He may even come almost all the way. But not actually all. He’ll keep one door locked, and someday he’s going to explode and hurt you, or even kill you. But if from the beginning you’ve always gone to him in an entirely different way, with respect and affection, he’ll finally unlock that last door himself. You never know when. With an older animal who’s had ‘fear training’ it may be never.

“When I’m asked how long our system takes, I only say, ‘Forever.’ But I do know the greatest moment a human can have is when that animal finally unlocks that last door for him. When that moment comes, the animal will do anything for you just to please you. The reward thing, the good or whatever, is only a small part of it.”

photo provided by Ken Lynch

photo provided by Ken Lynch

Only with the baby animals is Mr. Tors’ and Mr. Helfer’s process a relatively quick one—because, of course, these animals have never known a fear method. Actually, these animals fall under the distaff domain of Helfer’s beautiful wife, Toni. A former model, she has brought up her own baby girl, 2-1/2-year-old Tana, among the animals.

The hardest scene Mr. Helfer told me he ever had to do was a scene in the movie “The Lion.” Here the father was supposed to have shot his daughter’s pet lion, and the director wanted the lion to “die” in the girl’s arms. “On top of it all,” Helfer told me, they wanted it in a rainstorm.

“I defy anyone,” he said, “to get that scene without our kind of training. How are you going to do it? To get the lion to go completely limp, with his tongue out, with not a movement—not even an eyelid?

“I did it with Zamba, my favorite lion, but I’m not proud of it. To do it, I had to double-cross him. Before we shot the scene, I bawled the devil out of him. I told him I was surprised at him—that he was no good, that would never be any good, that he had let me down. Zamba was so hurt, he ‘died.”

An animal to be remembered

Of course, Zamba didn’t actually die—and, in time, he did get over the double-cross. But today he is dead, and, although there is a new Zamba in Africa, U.S.A., there is also, in the very center of the compound, a statue to the original. The legend is simple. “Zamba,” it says, “Friend to All.” Helfer points to it quietly. “I know it doesn’t sound right, but I got my religion from Zamba.

Ralph Helfer with lion, possibly his beloved Zamba

Ralph Helfer with lion, possibly his beloved Zamba

Besides Zamba, the cast of characters in “Beverly Hills” includes Judy, the 3-year-old chimp who is tops in all the animal kingdom in what Ivan Toors calls “human” intelligence (he makes a sharp and not entirely favorable comparison between this and “animal” intelligence); Clarence, the cross-eyed lion (“He really does see double. We took him to the top eye doctor in the world, but nothing can be done about it”); Bruce, the ocelot in Honey West (“he’s actually very gentle, but he can act fierce enough to make the humans around him look brave”); Patricia, a 450-pound Bengal tiger, who starred in Disney’s “A Tiger Walks;” Bruno, a 7-foot, 700-pound black bear, perhaps the biggest “working” bear in the world and yet so gentle children can ride him; Sir Tom, a mountain-lion veteran of at least 60 movies; Raunchy, a 250-pound jaguar (“They said you could never train a jaguar. We didn’t—he trained us”); and, finally, Big Mo and Margie—Big Mo, a 4-ton, 50-year-old elephant who is the largest, strongest, and certainly the best actor in elephant history, and Margie, who is a small 7-year-old pachyderm who can do everything but talk.

Once in a while ex-pets are taken n despite both Helfer’s and Tors’ strong opinions on wild animals as pets (they are 100 percent again it—“it’s all affection and no respect”), they turn out to be fine performers.

Not long ago, a new director on the Daktari set went right up to a lion. “I’m not afraid of him,” he said. Marshall Thompson grabbed the man. “You should be,” he said, pulling him back. “You don’t know enough not to be.” Helfer puts it this way. “Lack of fear is just as dangerous as fear itself—which is, of course, lack of understanding. And the moment you understand, you can’t fear. When we have a guest star in Daktari, we tell him three things: Don’t make a sudden movement, don’t make a loud noise and don’t approach the animal until someone who knows more than you do has ‘read’ him and knows what mood he is in.”

Training for tarantulas

Both Helfer and Tors have not only gone all out in their new beliefs (“Even our tarantulas,” they point out, “get affection training”) Then, too, they have even challenged what has gone down in animal books as going “against nature.” Tors has, for example, hundreds of times, with no difficulty raised a ‘killer” with his natural prey–a tiger with a fawn, for one instance—and he is even now engaged in proving that “killer” whales are not necessarily killers at all. “I told my scriptwriter just one thing,” he says. “The whale is Captain Dreyfus and you are Zola.”

Tors’ philosophy

But there is no question that Tors feels he is doing something far more important than any one television show. “I was born a mammal,” he says, “and now in a big city 1 have to live like an insect. In a car I feel like a bug. Even on a freeway I’m just an ant in a long line of other ants. In New York it may be more like a beehive, but it’s all wrong. We live a phony existence. We don’t understand life and death. We fell out of rhythm with nature. We pretend we don’t kill, but let others kill for us.”

Ivan Tors with Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion

photo provided by Ken Lynch

I asked Mr. Tors if he saw any hope. ”Well,” he said, “Ian MacPhail, the campaigns director of the World Wildlife Fund, told me that three years ago, when a safari started out from the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, the natives would cheer. Now they jeer. And right here in our country there’s beginning to be an entirely different feeling about everything to do with animals–from hunting all the way to laboratory animals.”

I also asked Mr. Tors what was his own favorite animal. “Cheetahs,” he replied. Finally, I asked him what was the most difficult animal to train. He smiled. “Your own house cat,” he said. “He has the most’ independence–and integrity.”

The acid test of the effectiveness Of the Africa, U.SA. training came one dark and stormy night this winter.

Thirty inches of rain, the heaviest downpour in Los Angeles history, washed out a flood-control dam, and before it could be restored, a second storm dumped 14 more inches, within 24 hours, on the area.

The entire reservation was flooded–engulfed by waves with 8-foot crests and with power enough to splinter barracks into matchboxes, to overturn a 45-foot trailer truck, to pick up 1000-pound animal cages as if they were made of cardboard and carry them off down a river which had become raging torrent. So amazingly quickly did it all happen that Ted Derby and Frank Lamping, two head trainers, were both carried off nearly half a mile down the river before they were rescued. Once back, they, Mr. and Mrs. Helfer , Joyce Freeman, the general manager  and other employees had but one purpose–to save as many animals as they could.

At first their task seemed hopeless. Africa, U.S.A., had become a underwater arena full of confused, fear-crazed animals. In a few minutes, years of work were, it seemed, to go literally down drain.

But then, that dark night, as they had done every day for so long under happier circumstances, they approached the animals. Toni Helfer made for the animal nursery and opened the door. The water-soaked, half-drowned, terrified young animals suddenly stopped their frantic fighting of the water and each other and fought to get to her. Carrying some, leading others and calling still others, she brought every single one to safety.

Meanwhile the others approached the older animals–the lions, tigers, the leopards and the jaguars.  Frightened as they were, the animals did not forget their lessons at Africa, U .S.A. There was no time to tie and pull them–they had to come, or else. Each sight of these huge animals being taken to higher ground, and safety, was more remarkable than the one before–a keeper, Jack Silk, carrying a cheetah piggyback across the river, literally swimming under him; 90-pound trainer Harley Tony alone carrying a 115-pound python, a snake that normally takes three men to lift. But perhaps the most amazing sight of all was Big Mo. For one of the trainers, unable to budge a cage sliding into the water had suddenly thought of the elephant. He had gone and untied him. Without a word of command, Big Mo went down to the river and set himself in position. A rope was put around the cage—and Big Mo pulled it to high ground.

Ralph Helfer (left, still living, currently an author) and Ivan Tors (deceased 1983)

Ralph Helfer (left, still living, currently an author) and Ivan Tors (deceased 1983)

In all only four animals were lost—a new lion which had not yet had affection training and refused to leave her cage; a rare eagle from Pakistan, which had drowned, and two wolves which became so terrified nothing could be done to save them. A third wolf was, at least, freed frorn its cage. However, when a sheriff saw it swimming to freedom across the river to the wrong side, he refused to let it go. “I cannot allow it,” he shouted, and pulled out his gun. Immediately one of the trainers dove into the icy water and put his arms around the wolf, foiling the shooting.

Nowhere though, that night when the storm subsided and they took stock, could anyone find Bruno. The 700 pound black hear was gone. Frantically Tors and Helfer advertised on the radio and television not to shoot him–that he was affectionate. Two days later, to the amazement of all, Bruno casually ambled back into camp and headed for his cage. He seemed none the worse for whatever experiences he had had—only tired–and to this day no one knows where he had been.

“My guess,” says Tors, “is that he decided it was time for a personal appearance tour.”

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58 comments on “The story of Africa, U.S.A. and its proprietors, animal trainer Ralph Helfer and Daktari producer Ivan Tors

  1. I forgot about this article. Thanks for posting it. Susan, you are doing a terrific job in maintaining this site. Thanks. Cheryl

    • I had never seen this article before and was just fascinated by it. Thanks for the kind words but it couldn’t be done without all the help from so many of you. I am literally sitting on a mountain of great stuff that will take months to reveal on this site. It couldn’t get more fun than this (unless a certain favorite of mine consented to an interview … :-))

  2. Reblogged this on Be As One and commented:

    In digging up old articles about my favorite TV show as a kid, Daktari, I came across this fascinating story about Africa, U.S.A, once a large complex where exotic animals were trained through “affection training” rather than through fear with the whip and chair. This was back in the 1960s before caring for animals and the environment was fashionable. I direct your attention especially to the end of the article and the heroic efforts of the trainers, saving animals from imminent death because of raging floods. It’s quite amazing.

  3. This article contained a lot of interesting information, some of which I hadn’t read before. I had always thought the big flood at Africa USA occurred later than 1966 (specifically March 1968 – although this could just be an internet ‘urban myth’). Can any fellow readers of this website clarify this? Also does anyone know the actual location in Soledad Canyon where Africa USA existed? When I was planning a holiday to the USA in early 2012, I wrote to the people at the Shambala Preserve in the Soledad Canyon to book a safari tour and asked them whether Africa USA was ever located on the land which is now a part of their current reserve. Part of the response they provided included “….I am sorry to inform you that the property on which Shambala is on was never the same property as Africa USA. The property that Shambala is on was at one time owned by animal trainer Steve Martin and Ron Oxley. Both places suffered during the flood as well as the fire that happened in the late 70s. I have been a volunteer at Shambala going on 25 years now and have been asked about the Daktari property off and on. Some how people over the years have gotton the two properties confused.” If I ever make another trip from Australia to the USA, it would be a dream come true to visit the area of land that was ‘the Wameru Compound’ in DAKTARI or any of the recognisable landmarks used during the series (although I appreciate that the compound sets probably no longer exist).

    • I just posted the question on my brother-in-law’s Facebook page because he lives out there and makes a point of knowing where these places are.

      I’m wondering if there were 2 floods because the article was written in 1966 and then there is reference on the web to the one in 1969 that wiped out the place. It makes sense considering how common flooding is in CA.

  4. […] Ralph Helfer, the genius animal trainer known for his radical departure from conventional training techniques, is alive and well and living in Africa. Helfer, who introduced affection training to the animal world, is now an author and has written several books. His latest, Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived tells the story of a magnificent lion whom Helfer loved dearly (see previous post). […]

  5. Ken, one of our readers, wrote to Ralph Helfer to ask where Africa, U.S.A. had been relocated and he gave this response:

    As you drive up Soledad Canyon Road, Africa U.S.A. was located on the left side of the road. It was before Shambala Preserve. We had a house up on a hill directly across from the property that might help you locate it. There was no address.

    • I have just finished reading Ralph Helfer’s ZAMBA book which I borrowed from the local library. It is a great read that really gets across his love of animals and his favourite lion, Zamba.
      In particular, it features a chapter of over 20 pages giving a very detailed and vivid account of the big flood that almost totally destroyed Africa USA in the 1960s. DAKTARI’s Clarence the lion, Judy the Chimp and Serang the tiger get a specific mention among the many animals affected by the flood.
      However in terms of my previous posts about the present location of Africa USA, Ralph gives the following description which is consistent with the response he provided me in his email:
      “Nestled at the bottom of Soledad Canyon, about thirty miles north of Los Angeles, the property snaked for a mile down the canyon beside the banks of the Santa Clarita stream. The highway wound above it on one side, the railroad track on the other.”
      Also interestingly, he says that “‘we had just signed a contract with Universal Studios to open our beautiful ranch to their tours” but this obviously proved to be impossible due to the severe impact of the flood. Just imagine if there hadn’t been the flood – we all would still have the opportunity to visit ‘Wameru Compound’ today!
      Finally, Ralph makes a reference to “our home, across the street” which he mentioned in his email to me. Elsewhere in the book he refers to his house being a big Spanish-style residence (although that may not necessarily be the house opposite Africa USA).
      Anyway, I thought I might share this with you in case anyone ever has the opportunity to go to Soledad Canyon and the area that was once Africa USA. Maybe someone could take a few pictures of the area and post them on this website?

      • I put Zamba on my wishlist on Amazon. No time right now for casual reading but hopefully when the work load lightens up. This sounds like a wonderful story. As you know, I love cats! 🙂

      • .
        It is a Camp ground Now called Ribins nest..You can see a House on a small hill to the left near Railroad Tracks then the Camp Ground..There is also 2 homes on the Right. I grew up in this area. And lived on a Ranch that they filmed Dactari on also..

    • If you drive on the 14 Freeway Antelope Valley Freeway get off on Soledad Canyon Make a Right.Drive Up a winding road the First spot you will see at the Bottom is an old Camp ground on the Right that was Called Rivers End.

      Keep going you will go through a Tunnel built in 1953 several Movies shot on this Road and theTunnel also Its a Mad Mad World.with Milton Milton Berele,.

      Keep going you will Pass Agua Dulce Canyon Road.on the Left..If you go up that Road Agua Dulce Canyon The California Kid with Martin Sheen was Shot there..But keep Driving up Soledad then you will Pass another Camp Ground on the Left White Rock Lake..

      You will Pass a little store on the Left..then you will Pass the Fire Crew Area for the Forest and around the next Corner is Robins Nest Camp Ground on the Left this is where Africa USA Used to Be.
      .I was living there at the time of the Flood also and remeber the Animals all being loose.

      I lived with my Family near the 14 freeway on a Movie Ranch called
      Rancho Escondido..
      We moved in after Nature’s Heaven Owned By Ralph Helfer moved to Soeldad Later to be Called Africa USA..
      The Owner of our Property Rancho Escondido was Rita Shaeffer Homesteders of the Aqua Dulce Area..This Ranch was originally 190 acres until the 14 freeway went through it..then it became160 acres it was also the Back Part of Vasquez Rocks another film Location.

      Our Family the Jones Family..Delbert,Diana Blaine,Bill David and Daniel we lived there and Restored all of the Buildings and Homestead homes returning it to it’s former Glory.
      .After this was Completed my Dad Delbert Made agreements with the Film Studios to film on this Ranch again..
      Dactari, Lassie ,Gentle Ben,Cowboy in Africa..and also the first Cougar (Car) Commericals in 1968 were also Fimed there..and many other Films and Commericals..

      I have Great Memories of this area along with My Brothers who all Live in Colorado now Im the only one left in California. And will forever have Great Memories of Aqua Dulce, Rancho Escondido Ranch , Vasquez Rocks.
      And all of my friends who I went to school with and Grew up with Many of who spent alot of time on the Ranch having Fun..
      And all the People I met in the Fim Industry as a Kid.

      David Jones

      • Wow, fantastic, thanks! I’ve just put up an updated link to this page so that Daktari fans can find it. I know where I am going the next time I visit my family out in LA! 🙂

      • Wow! Although I live in Australia, I’ve been trying to find details of the location of Africa USA for some time in the hope of visiting it one day if I ever get back to the States on holiday. Your detailed description is so appreciated! Maybe in another post, you might like to provide any personal pictures you took at the time of the location as it related to DAKTARI.
        I actually often view a website about a similar DAKTARI-themed Australian TV show SKIPPY which has an extensive and well researched collection of then-and-now pictures of the show’s locations ( http://skippyproject.blogspot.com.au/ ). Wouldn’t it be great if one of our DAKTARI readers could do the same for our show!

    • After the 69 flood, the park was purchased and renamed Little Africa. My dad worked for LASD, and would work at Africa USA from time to time. I remember him talking me into letting the bear take a chip from my mouth. My parents, and aunt and uncle, along with the Rushes pretty much ran the park. I have a lot of fond memories there. My aunt and uncle ran the snack bar, and I would get quarters from then to play the arcade games. He painted the quarter red for some reason. Probably to track them, and my mom was a life guard at the swimming hole, which was right below Soledad Cyn. Rd. at the time. I remember climbing the tree up into the tree house that was used in Daktari. It looks nothing like it used to. it is a RV/mobile home park now. There’s even an old reservoir up on the hill, across the tracks, behind the park we used to go to. Later on, my aunt and uncle bought the house across the street from the current entrance, and lived there for many years before moving to Palmdale, where they lived the rest of their lives. The house across the street burnt down many years ago, and was not rebuilt. Don’t have any idea what happened to the Rushes. Dad and myself now live in Arkansas, and my mother and brother live in Acton. My head is swimming with all sorts of stuff now. Thank you for this. ❤

  6. […] This picture of Serang was featured in the Africa U.S.A. article in TV Guide (see previous post). […]

  7. Hello again. I found a little more information about the floods at Africa USA in doing my research for “Gentle Ben”, based on California newspapers from the 1960s I accessed through Newspapers dot com. It seems like there were indeed two major floods. The first one, which is the one discussed in the Cleveland Amory TV Guide article, happened in Dec. 1965 and is the one that caused Bruno the bear (later the main actor in “Gentle Ben”) to be swept away. He returned on his own a few days later. Several other animals were also mentioned as missing but perhaps not drowned as the news articles mention that the chewed carcass of a cow was found, giving the impression that one of the big cats had eaten it.
    The second flood occurred in January 1969 and seems to have been much worse. Prior to this flood, Tors was planning to open the compound to the public for tours and had sought a zoning variance to do so. However, when the flood occurred the water rose so quickly that apparently not all the animals could be rescued from their cages in time, and were shot to prevent them from drowning. The animals that were shot included 3 lions, a jaguar, two tigers, and one or two bears (not Bruno as he went on to appear in 1970s films).
    Then on Feb. 25, 1969, there was apparently more flooding (the news article talks about there being two 100-year floods in 30 days) and two alligators and two hippos broke loose and were seen going down the flood-swollen Santa Clarita river. A spokesman for Africa USA was quoted as saying the animals were extremely dangerous and once the flood subsided, “big game hunters would attempt to destroy them from helicopters.”
    Shortly thereafter, there was a $50,000 fire also at the complex, although no animals were hurt.
    After this, Tors decided to concentrate on his planned “Torsland” park in Florida (which I understand from the documentary on him, never happened, although he did have a number of his animals at the Homosassa Springs Attraction in Florida through the 70s) and Helfer decided to abandon the Africa USA complex and move the operation to a new location near Fillmore in Ventura County.
    It seems like in the “Beauty of the Beasts” account, Helfer (or some editor) conflated the two floods as the article talks about shooting “Gentle Ben” and then having Bruno wash away. “Gentle Ben” and “Gentle Giant” did not come out until 1967 which to me would mean that they were probably filmed during 1966 at the earliest (possibly even early 1967) so it seems unlikely that they were shooting “Gentle Ben” in 1965.
    Here are some of the newspaper sources I used. There are lots more than this on Newspapers dot com – the local California papers covered all of this in pretty good detail.
    “All you need is a Coke and stout heart”, Redlands Daily Facts, Dec. 31, 1965, p. 2.
    “Wild Animals on Loose – Swept away by Los Angeles Floods,” Eureka Humboldt Standard, Jan. 18, 1966, p. 2.
    “Three Dead Lions Reported Stolen From Africa, U.S.A.,” Redlands Daily Facts, Jan. 31, 1969, p. 3.
    “6 More Victims of South State Storm,” San Mateo Times, Feb. 26, 1969, p. 12.
    “Africa U.S.A. Fire,” Long Beach Independent, Mar. 4, 1969, p. A-7.
    “Tors Will Abandon Flood-Damaged Africa U.S.A.,” Fresno Bee, Apr. 13, 1969, p. 12-A.
    “HELP – They Don’t Quit,” San Bernarndino County Sun, Feb. 20, 1970, p. B-5.
    ” ‘Africa’ Opening,” Long Beach Independent, Jan. 26, 1971, p. A-8.

  8. I noticed when I posted the above that my previous comment seems to have not posted. I am guessing maybe this blog has an automatic reject for anything that contains a dot com or an address? Anyway, I had posted earlier to let you know that I did find in a 1968 paper an address for the original Africa U.S.A. complex that puts it on the left and ahead of Shambala, just as the previous posts said. I won’t repost the address as I don’t want the post to vanish, I’ll just say it was in the 8200 block of Soledad Canyon, Saugus. Source: “Action Line – Fun and Game,” Long Beach Independent, Jul. 1, 1968, p. 1. Obtained via Newspapers dot com. Someone had written in wanting to know where they could get training and a job working on a game preserve, so the paper told them to write or call Africa U.S.A. Hope this will help people looking for the correct site of the old compound.

  9. Wow, it was great to read all these things about Africa U.S.A. and Törzs Iván. It’s so cool that I was born in same city as producer of DAKTARI. 🙂

  10. Hi, my name is Andy S. and I remember back in the mid 60s my parents had a party and I met Toni Helfer and fell in love. I was like 12 and she was like 25, and married. My parents lived at the top of Crest Rd in Rolling Hills, CA and they had just gotten back from a month long trek through Africa and decided to throw a party with wild animals in attendance. My parents, I think, helped finance the planned wild animal park but I heard it didn’t happen.At the party, I remember they had a leopard that was a bit skittish and Toni had to chain it to a sliding glass door handle in a back playroom area next to my room and I had gone to my room for something and then was going back out to the party and walked through the playroom and all of a sudden the leopard lunged at me as I almost was out of the room and I heard this loud thud and it was the leopards lunge and the end of slack in the chain, and it was like 4 ft from me when it stopped and my head snapped back and saw it and I nearly soiled myself. Cleared the arteries for sure. I see pictures of Toni online from back then and see why I remembered her. I guess she was a model. Oh well, that’s my story from yesteryear. Thanx for the blog. Thought i’d never have the chance to tell that story again. Take care – Andy S

  11. in 1960 when i was working in my cousins Mobil station I went to a party at Ralphs home in Malibu hills. I did not know much about Ralph at the time except that I filled his car with gas all the time. When I arrived I was surprised to see all the animals in cages outside his home but I was much more surprised when I went in the back door to the Kitchen only to run into 2 Cougars with only a chain leash on them tied to two tree stumps. Other animals were in the home including a lion cub. I was only 19 and thought that was the coolest thing I ever saw until I worked on the show as the assistant director. It wasn’t work it was fun being around all the animals and Ted. My cousins daughters horse died. Ralph said “Can I have it?” Wow I thought, as I did not know he had animals. My cousin said sure and Ralph picked up the horse within an hour and fed him to the lions. I liked Ralph very much and loved working with the animals especially Sarang the 500lb tiger.

    • Funny I now live only 3 miles from where we shot the Daktari series at Africa USA. Im just off the Via Princessa off ramp on the 14 fwy.

      I saw Cheryl at the “Hollywood Show” at the Westin Hotel near LAX last year. I had heard the cast of The Waltons were going to be there so I went to see all of them as I worked on the show for 3 years as Production Manager and Producer.

  12. I have so many stories Susan. My kids are trying to get me to write a book. I made over 200 films in 127 Countries with most all the biggest stars in Hollywood. You can see some of the films I worked on if you go to IMDB.Com and put in Lynn Guthrie. I was blessed to have worked with so many Great Directors and Actors. Two of my favorite directors were Billy Wilder and Mike Nichlos. Favorite Actress was Ingrid Bergman. We were very close. She was ill when we made A Woman Called Golda in Israel.

  13. I know for sure you can get an autographed picture of Cheryl. I had never been to one of those and the primary reason as all the living cast of “The Waltons” were there and I had not seen them in so long. We were all like family.

    • My brother-in-law always goes to that show. I texted him last night to see if he’s going this year – he’d get one for me. I’m here on the East Coast.

      • Nice site and great memories! I am Larry Titus. My twin brother and i got our start with Ralph in 1968 at the Africa USA ranch in Filmore Ca. Ralph gave us an unbelievable experience working around a thousands of animals. We got to work with many of the ones mentioned above and then some. I will mention a few, Harpi, Big Tom, Modoc, Serang, Zamba, Clyde, Clarence, Ridgerod, Roni, Naji, Bagdad, Margie, Burno, Ben, Major and hundreds more. We found that Ralph and Toni’s love and concern for animals extended to people as well. In 1969 when the park fell on hard times paying the bills became hard so many employees were let go. My brother and i were kept on but for very little pay. Ralph offered us his home in Soledad Canyon to live in free of charge for several months till the park was doing better. He then offered us jobs at Africa USA Bulletin Ca.where many of the animals mentioned above where located. One was Burno the famed bear. Bruno’s an my friendship was sealed permittedly when i noticed one day what looked like a large mat of fur deep in his fur around his neck. I found a old collar deeply embedded in his fur. I could not even move it, it being so attached. After about an hour of work with a pocket knife i removed it. Bruno instantly began to bounce up and down, rolling around and rubbing all over me. From that day on he would get up and rub all over the bars as i approached the area. What a great experience. If Ralph had not allowed my brother and myself such freedom to work with the animals Burno may have died slowly from it. In short time the park was sold but Ralph arranged so that my Brother Gary would be Head Trainer at Knox Berry Farm in LA and myself to be Head Trainer for Tiger Island at Marine World Africa USA in Redwood City, Ca. Thanks to Ralph we had a life of unbelievable experiences that very few will ever have. I did talk to Ralph a year or so by email and he is doing fine. Again thank you this site.

      • Ralph Helfer is a most unusual man — how lucky you are to know him and have worked with him. What great stories! Thanks for sharing. It’s wonderful gathering together people who have been so intimately connected with the show and the animals.

  14. Thanks for this article !

  15. Do you or anyone else have any pictures of Ralph Helfer, Toni Helfer, Tana Helfer, Zamba, Modoc, Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion and Judy The Chimpanzee they could upload to imdb.com?

    • I have pictures of most everything you want – let me know how I can upload them.

      • If you would like to upload photos to imdb.com this is what you do.
        IMDbPro subscriptions only allow uploading one resume and/or one set of photos per individual. Once you have entered the name of the person for which you wish to upload a resume or photos, you won’t be able to upload another resume or photo for another person unless you create a second IMDbPro subscription.
        If you wish to upload photos or a resume for several individuals, you’ll have to log-out and sign-up for a separate IMDbPro account (using a different email address). If you wish to sign up for a separate account with the same card you used for a free trial.

  16. About the 1969 flood, in witch way Zamba the lion saved the animals?

  17. Have you seen the interviews of Ralph Helfer by The Star Kenya and Animal Planet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sb8H09gKJ5M, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-iiQK1wH28

  18. Here’s another video clip of Ralph Helfer with his Daughter Tana I think you’ll like to see https://vimeo.com/157282615

  19. Hey guys! 🙂
    Have you noticed, that Zamba actually starred in DAKTARI too? 😀
    Tonnes of Clarence with the chickens scenes are featuring Zamba! The long, pointy nose is a clue! I always wondered, who was the third lion after Clarence and Leo.

    • I was honored to have worked on the show only it wasn’t work the people are amazing as were the animals and it was just fun to be a part of it I was the assistant director

      Sent from my iPhone

  20. […] proceed to dream up alternatives, including a Western, jungle picture (filmed at the now-defunct Africa U.S.A. park in Soledad Canyon) and crime movie, all with Sonny as the lead and Cher as various […]

  21. […] proceed to dream up alternatives, including a Western, jungle picture (filmed at the now-defunct Africa U.S.A. park in Soledad Canyon) and crime movie, all with Sonny as the lead and Cher as various […]

  22. As a kid I got to go there many times as my Dad worked there as a carpenter mainly during the Daktari filming period. It was very fun and interesting at the time being a kid and getting to see animals up close.

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