Tue, April 07

Out of Africa Wildlife Park breaks ground

Staff photo by Dean H. Borgwardt

CAMP Verde Mayor Mitch Dickinson, right, and Dean Harrison, owner of Out of Africa Wildlife Park, use gold-painted shovels to offically break ground at the park's new site in Camp Verde Friday. The Park is on the south side of Arizona 260.

Area dignities and the media attended the park's official groundbreaking ceremony Friday. Those attending the invitation-only ceremony included Camp Verde Mayor Mitch Dickinson, Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce Director Ron Luczak, Cottonwood Mayor Ruben Jauregui, Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce Director Pete Sesow, Jerome Town Clerk Al Palmieri, Yavapai-Apache Nation Tribal Councilman Earl Beauty, and Char Beltran, president/CEO of the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Chamber of Commerce.

"We're a tourism-based economy," Beltran said before Dean Harrison and Dickinson broke ground with golden shovels. "Can you imagine what Out of Africa will do for tourism ... I'm so excited."

On Friday, attendees toured the proposed tram route in one of two yellow Mercedes Unimogs, off-road trucks, while Out of Africa owners Dean and Prayeri Harrison pointed out future animal habitats and exhibits such as the Serengeti and an enclosed rain forest.

"Everywhere you look you'll be able to see animals," Dean Harrison declared during the ride. "You'll have the opportunity to be close to them and to be part of them in their habitat."

The park's current site in Fountain Hills measures a mere 16 acres so the move north will offer its 350 animals more spacious living and an average of 9 degrees cooler.

In addition to more space, the Camp Verde facility will feature habitats created with moats and knolls to enable visitors to take photos without visible fences. There will also be areas with more traditional fencing to allow animals to come up close. The park will feature a tram throughout to provide comfortable touring for the elderly or physically challenged visitors.

On May 5, Out of Africa was suddenly served an eviction notice from the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation after a 16-year operation in Fountain Hills on a lease basis. The legal process has forced the Harrisons to relocate to Camp Verde now instead of a slower transition that they had hoped for next spring and summer.

Fortunately, the Harrisons had purchased 104 acres in Camp Verde, 2.9 miles west of Interstate 17 on the south side of Arizona 260 for the wildlife park, and much of the preliminary work has been done. For instance, the council approved the site plans late last year.

Until this time the park has been self-sustaining even funding the beginning of the new facility itself, which was slated to open next summer, 2005.

The intent now is to re-open perhaps as early as this fall, but in stages. The Fountain Hills location will close its doors June 1. That site is scheduled for an RV storage lot adjacent to a RV Park that is under construction.

Site preparation is under way at the new location, and through the cooperation and support of all the local Verde communities, the initial enclosure, that will house the hoofed stock, is nearly prepared.

"We should be in a position to start receiving the giraffe, zebra and wildebeest within a week," said Out of Africa project manager Bruce Newman.

Park officials plan to start relocating the animals on June 1, beginning with the herbivores.

"It's a daunting and frightening task," said public relations and marketing director Nadia Caillou. "Moving the animals so suddenly carries serious risks. They are subject to extreme stress with this type of move and we are doing everything in our power to see that they are transported and housed with every possible precaution. Time is our biggest obstacle."

To aid in this rapid transition, assistance from the community, Friends of Camp Verde, APS, Steve Coury and others have poured in. Still, more help is needed in building fences for the habitats, Dean Harrison said. Those able to volunteer or contribute in any way, can call the Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce at (928) 567-9294. Out of Africa retail items will soon be available at the chamber to aid the park, Prayeri Harrison added.

For news on Out of Africa Wildlife Park and its migration, visit The site is currently being updated and soon will include a page listing future employment opportunities and an on line form for applications.

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