Secrets on Safari
Updated: Jan 20
Little-known facts about Kilimanjaro Safaris.
When you take a trip to Harambe Wildlife Reserve in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you might ride Kilimanjaro Safaris. A guide will drive you out to the savanna to see some of the 34 species that call the open plains, shady forests, and rocky wetlands home. At 110 acres, the entire Magic Kingdom can fit inside the attraction (MK sits at 107 acres), and it’s around 20% of DAK. Not to mention, at 18 minutes, it’s the longest ride on property that’s not a show or film. That’s a lot of territory to cover, and that also makes for a lot of safari secrets you may not know about. Take a look at some of the best-kept safari secrets that all Disney fans should know.
Walt Envisioned It
Back in 1954, when Walt Disney was building the Jungle Cruise for Disneyland, he wanted to use real animals. Due to their unpredictable nature, this idea was eventually scrapped. The animals became animatronics that could be 100% controlled by the ride operators, or skippers like Frank in the recent Jungle Cruise film. Flash-forward to 1998 when DAK opened, and Walt’s dream of guests interacting with live animals finally came to fruition.
A Faux Green Thumb
The iconic baobab trees (the ones that look like they’re upside-down with the roots sticking up) are actually made of mud and concrete. A similar process was developed by Imagineers when they constructed the Tree of Life; they used an upside-down oil rig as the base to support hurricane-force winds and then layered plaster and paint on top to look like bark and leaves. There was once an indigenous baobab tree planted on the safari, but it died during an unseasonably cold winter in Florida. Flat-top acacia trees, another tree native to Africa, can be seen as well. However, they’re actually oak trees, a tree native to Florida, trimmed to look like acacia trees.
Not Your Average Cast Members
The safari cast members go through extensive training to learn not only all the animals and plants to point out to guests, but also how to drive the custom-built GMC safari trucks. The CMs need to be acutely aware of when to stop to let animals pass, and also when to drive to keep the ride moving. Additionally, safari cast members that work directly with animals have to learn the unique calls that are used to bring them into their enclosures at night. This could be hitting a metal bar underwater to reign in crocodiles, making a duck call for gazelles, or ringing a cowbell for giraffes.
It’s Carefully Constructed
While the ride appears to be a vast space where the animals can roam free the safari has actually been designed to covertly direct the animals. This involves using chains, water features, pits, and even off-putting plants to keep predators from prey. The next time you’re riding past the lions, try to find the hidden, 18-foot moat that separates you from the king of the jungle. This keeps the lions on their air-conditioned rocks with no chance of prancing down to guests below. These rocks and caves are chilled because the original pride came from the Oregon Zoo, which obviously has a much cooler climate than central Florida.
Conversely, there are also stage elements used to entice the animals to move closer to the safari vehicle; CMs will lay out hay, grass, salt licks, and drinking water near the path of the trucks to encourage closer contact.
It Was High-Key Scary
If you went to DAK prior to 2012, you probably have an eerie memory of being scared on Kilimanjaro Safaris. This is because there was originally a ride story involving poaching. Your safari would be interrupted by a radio dispatcher telling your guide that an elephant mother was killed by poachers and her calf was lost. Through a series of fixed scenes showing a camp raided by poachers, ivory tusks ready to sell, and a collapsing bridge you narrowly escape, your ride vehicle would eventually “rescue” the baby elephant from the back of a truck. Even more concerning, there was an additional scene with the “carcass” of the dead elephant mother. Thankfully, this scene didn’t test well and was removed before the park opened.
So there you have it. In typical Disney fashion, there are many hidden elements on Kilimanjaro Safaris designed to keep you immersed in the adventure. I’m glad the new method for encouraging conservation comes in the form of donation requests and character buttons — because an animal carcass is one safari secret I’m fine with keeping secret.