African wildlife park on the Web:
Attraction was first to let animals roam

Sunday, July 28, 2002

By Sar Perlman

Special Correspondent

A descendent of the men who started Africa U.S.A., a 300-acre safari park in the heart of Boca Raton during the 1950’s, has launched a Web site on the attraction and recently has added more historic photographs.

Ginger Pedersen, 38, of Boynton Beach launched the site in January and added the new photos and information after she contacted the original game collector who captured the animals. Her grandfather, John Pedersen, was the park’s founder and owner, and her father, Jack Pedersen, managed the park. “When my grandfather died in 1996 at 98 years old, I inherited his scrapbook and a box full of old films, and I scanned everything and created the Web site,” Pedersen said. “Florida is changing so much. I think it will help keep the memories alive. The park is a part of the forgotten history of Florida.”

Africa U.S.A. was billed as the first cageless African wildlife tourist attraction in the United States. It was on land originally homesteaded as an orange grove by the Raulerson family, of the original Boca Raton pioneer families. The property is now the Camino Gardens subdivision.The park featured such exotic animals as camels, cheetahs, elephants, gazelles, giraffes, ostriches, and zebras.

The Web site,, offers a virtual tour of the park, photos and descriptions of the animals and exotic plants, aerial photos, clips from the movies shown at the park and a detailed history of the park.

In April, Pedersen received an email from an author writing a biography about Richard Cade, the big game collector who helped capture the park’s animals. “When I went through all the clippings, I saw stories about Richard but didn’t know how to find him,” Pedersen said. “I was really excited to get in touch with him. He now lives in Perth, Australia, and was totally floored after 50 years to make contact with Africa U.S.A.” Cade, the son of a prominent game collector, was only 17 when he went on the expeditions in Africa with Jack Pedersen. He supplied Ginger Pedersen with information about the expeditions and gave her photos she had never seen before, including a photo of her father with the two cheetahs in Durban before embarking on the journey back to Florida. “I didn’t realize how hard it was to capture the animals at the time and how difficult it was to get the animals out of Africa,” she said. Cade’s information and photos are now posted on the Web site.

ON THE WEB: Jack Pedersen, who managed Africa U.S.A., poses with two cheetahs in Durban, South Africa, before the animals were transported to the wildlife attraction, which closed in 1961.


“It’s part of history, and I’m glad they are preserving it,” said George Gehris, 74. He worked as a guide and later as an animal caretaker for Africa U.S.A. from 1956 until it closed in 1961 when builders took an interest in the tract of land. “The park was a lot of fun, and there are a lot of funny anecdotes, like giraffes taking visitor’s straw hats and eating them. Once an eland [a large cow-like antelope] gored a Jeep through the front grille and lifted it up with the driver inside. I was really sad to see the park close.” Gehris said he used to take the park’s two famous cheetahs, Mojah and Mbili, to the Popeye Playhouse in Palm Beach and other venues to put on shows. “I rode in the back of the open Jeep with the cheetahs. I wasn’t really afraid of them-they were trained. But I was afraid it would rain, because cats don’t like rain, and it would upset them,” he said. “I came home with a ripped shirt on several occasions.”

Pedersen said Camino Gardens is considering hosting an event next year to commemorate 50 years since the park opened its gates to the public.


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