Out of Africa, into Sonoma County
Welcome to a new year; a time of remembrance and reflection, a time to look back on where we’ve come from and forward to where we’re going next. To celebrate the beginning of the adventure that will be 2021 we’d like to pause a moment and reflect on the path we took to where we are now.
Founded in 1993 by both Peter and Nancy Lang, the story that would one day become Safari West was born in the imagination of one man; Peter Lang. Peter is originally from Los Angeles where he spent his formative years romping around the television sets shows like Daktari and Sea Hunt among others. Peter’s father, Otto Lang, was a Hollywood director and young Peter’s childhood included a lot of time on sound stages populated by lions and chimpanzees and the people who cared for them. “I was always hanging around the trainers and the animals,” A grinning Peter once said. “I guess I just never grew up.”
While Peter brings an entrepreneurial sense of adventure and artistic creation to Safari West, it is Nancy Lang who is responsible for spearheading the preserve’s dedication to education and conservation. Previously the General Curator of the San Francisco Zoo, she holds a Ph.D. in Biology. When they met, Nancy was the general curator at the San Francisco Zoo where she’d already established a reputation as an avian biologist and founder of the Avian Conservation Center. Before long, Peter and Nancy were married.
When Peter was 13 years old a film company asked him to raise lion cubs, so he cared for them from Easter through summer vacation for years, even taking them on the bus to go to the beach in Los Angeles. His father was ski pioneer and ski pioneer and film and television director Otto Lang, who exposed Peter to magnificent animals while working on television programs such as “Daktari, ”Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “Flipper,” and “Sea Hunt”. “I was always hanging around the trainers and the animals, and I guess I just never grew up,’’ Peter Lang says with a crooked grin.”
In 1978, Peter discovered his passion for African hoofstock when he developed “the last working cattle ranch in Beverly Hills’’. He imported three African eland, the largest of the African antelope, “to “eat away some of the higher shrubs so the grass would grow””. Lang also designed and built his own line of wood furniture, many pieces of which are now found in Safari West’s tent cabins. Lang keeps his hands in the wood business with sculpture (intricate antelope skulls and horns is his specialty).
It was during Peter’s time as a cattle rancher that the seeds of his childhood with lions took root in his professional life. His herd of cattle came to contain Watusi cattle, an African breed we still keep at Safari West today. For a time, this herd lived in Franklin Canyon, the last operating cattle ranch in Beverly Hills. Around this same time, it occurred to Peter that his Franklin Canyon ranch would also make an excellent place to raise African eland, the largest species of antelope in the world. The eland was Peter’s first antelope, but by no means were they to be his last.
Over the next several years, Peter’s collection grew. Eventually, he sold his Franklin Canyon ranch to the National Park Service and it became part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Peter and his expanding collection began a slow but inevitable migration north. In 1989 he purchased 400 acres of rolling, oak-studded woodland between Santa Rosa and Calistoga in Sonoma County. In a short time, this ranch would open to the public and known as Safari West.
In the meantime, Peter continued to manage his collection, working with various zoos and wildlife preserves in the process. It was through his working relationship with the San Francisco Zoo that he met our other owner, Dr. Nancy Lang.
Around this same time, the newlyweds began repositioning the preserve. It had been operating as a private facility for the breeding and propagation of endangered species. Peter and Nancy’s updated vision would open the facility to the public. The Lang’s would invite the world to see the conservation work being done and to learn about these fascinating animals that few people on this continent ever get to see. After months spent building our initial fleet of safari vehicles and organizing an educational curriculum, on July 4th, 1993, Safari West opened to the public for the very first time.
It was a slow build at first. In fact on that first day, according to Nancy, “We were so excited to start these tours. We waited for visitors all day. And no one came!” Rather than turn the property into some kind of amusement park, Peter and Nancy stayed dedicated to the idea of creating a meaningful, informative experience. This focus has paid off and today Safari West has become of “Must See” in Sonoma County.
In 1999, Peter and Nancy embarked on a new project; one designed to deepen the already immersive experience we offer here at Safari West. That year, the first of our tent-cabins came in. We now have thirty of them, offering a luxurious camping experience to Safari West visitors. Not only can you come enjoy our three-hour classic safari tours and learn about the hundreds of animals in our collection, you can spend the night among them as well.
Today, Safari West is an internationally known and respected facility. Our entertaining and educational safari tours are second to none and our overnight safari accommodations have been ranked among the best in the world.