The Surprising Truth About Kilimanjaro Safaris


Jambo from Harambe Village!

Located at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, the beloved Kilimanjaro Safaris is renowned for being different every time Guests venture into the African reserve. With over 30 species of animals found in over 110 acres of open plains, there is plenty for Guests to spot on their next Disney safari.

There’s nothing that comes close to this unique Walt Disney World ride at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios – in fact, the entire Magic Kingdom Park could fit inside Kilimanjaro Safaris!

But what secrets lie behind this famous Disney attraction? Well, let’s dive into the African savannah and find out.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Credit: Disney

Air-Conditioned Rocks?

Remember that moment as you turn past the baobab tree into the savannah and you suddenly catch your first glimpse of a giraffe? You might gasp or quickly grab your camera. On a real African safari, you really do just turn a corner and come face to face with a wild animal.

The difference, of course, is that in the wild, it truly is a surprise to see that animal. The Serengeti is a huge National Park and the guides have no idea where the animals may be. In Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Cast Members driving the safari vehicle know which animals to expect in each contained area – and Disney has some tricks to help Guests see animals on their Disney Park safari.

As animals are unpredictable, Walt Disney World uses devices such as air-conditioned rocks, cool breezes, salt licks, cooling or warming waters, and food to attract the animals towards the vehicle routes. This, of course, does not happen in Africa, but truly shows the surprising Imagineering behind Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Elephant at Animal Kingdom

Credit: Disney Tips

The Jungle Cruise: Take Two

Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida back on Earth Day, April 22, 1998. The Lake Buena Vista Park is, in fact, the largest theme park in the world, covering a whopping 580 acres!

The theme park is unique for housing attractions alongside numerous forms of wildlife, with many of these protected animals found at Harambe Wildlife Preserve, the fictional home of Africa’s main attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris. The famous safari ride features wild animals like black rhinoceroses, Nile crocodiles, giraffes, hippos, zebras, wildebeests, antelopes, and elephants.

When designing Disneyland, Walt Disney wanted live animals for the popular Jungle Cruise ride. While this wasn’t possible at the time, Walt’s dream still came true when Kilimanjaro Safaris opened.

Lead designer Joe Rohde revolutionized the theme park, creating a Disney Park that was alive but wasn’t a zoo, all while communicating the message of conservation. In July 1990, Imagineer Joe Rhode and other Imagineers visited Kenya and Tanzania to research for Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and study the wildlife.

joe rohde animal kingdom imagineer

Credit: Disney

We actually booked a 4-day safari expedition through the Kilimanjaro Climbing Company and explored the Tarangire, Serengeti, and Lake Manyara National Parks, as well as the Ngorongoro Crater. The Tarangire National Park really reminded us of Harambe and the vast savannah that Disney has constructed, showing us Rohde’s research locations truly inspired the look of the ride.

A Darker Storyline

Believe it or not, but the current version of Kilimanjaro Safaris was not the first. In fact, in the Disney attraction’s earlier days, it had a much darker, thrilling storyline.

When Kilimanjaro Safaris opened, it followed an elephant poaching storyline. Guests would board the ride vehicles for a “week-long safari,” only to have the adventure interrupted by radio talk of a poached elephant and missing calf.

The safari guide would then embark on a fast-paced ride through the savannah and over a rickety bridge looking for the poachers. The chase ended when the warden came over the radio and informed Guests that the poachers had been caught. Guests would then encounter Baby Red, the elephant calf, safely rescued.

poachers elephant truck kilimanjaro safari

Credit: Disney

This ride iteration intended to teach the dangers of poaching in Africa and even included a fake elephant corpse killed by poachers, complete with missing tusks. This scene did not test well and was removed before the Disney Park opened in 1998. By 2012, Baby Red, the poachers, and the radio messages were scrapped in favor of allowing Guests to spend more time viewing real animals.

So there you have it: the surprising truth behind Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Did any of these secrets surprise you? If you love this unique Walt Disney World attraction, you definitely consider going on a real-life Kilimanjaro Safari in Tanzania!

About Melissa Cannioto

Melissa is an author, adventurer, and chatterbox, who has worked at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and Adventures by Disney! A British native, she has traveled the world seeking new experiences, and now resides in Florida with her husband, an Air Force pilot. Find her children's book at