Behind the Scenes at Kilimanjaro Safaris in Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Kilimanjaro Safari
Credit: Disney

Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one of the most ambitious theme park attractions at Walt Disney World. With 110 acres of land making up the attraction, that is home to over 34 species of animals, the ride is a must-do for many Guests visiting the park, and is a testament to the immersive environments Disney Imagineers are able to create as Guests feel as if they are transported into the center of an authentic African safari. And, everything on the safari in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a dream of Walt Disney‘s that was finally realized in having live animals in a Disney Park! Let’s take a look behind the scenes at this favorite attraction to learn some little-known facts ahead of your next ride!

One of the Longest Rides

Kilimanjaro Safari

Photo Credit: Disney

At an average length of 18 minutes per ride, Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of the longest attractions at Walt Disney World. (We have to point out that this is the average length and not the guaranteed length of the attraction because the animals really have control here! If one of the animals causes a bit of a traffic jam, your ride will certainly last longer than 18 minutes.) At this length, it is easy to see why so many Disney World Guests can justify the long waits in line to spend almost 20 minutes on an attraction spotting lots of unique animals.

Invisible Barriers

Kilimanjaro Safaris

To create the authentic look of a real safari, Disney Imagineers worked to create barriers between various animals that would blend in with the appearance of different habitats on the safari. Some of these barriers are fairly standard and simply hidden from Guests’ view while on the safari vehicle, as in the cases of drop-offs and fencing that is hidden lower behind dirt or clay walls making them out sight from your safari truck, while others use natural shrubbery, trees, and other elements to keep animals in certain areas.

What Kind of Truck?

Kilimanjaro Safari

Credit: Disney

The trucks driven by Cast Members at Kilimanjaro Safaris are actually remodeled GMC trucks that have been modified to run on propane. They reportedly cost just over $100,000 per truck to purchase and modify and are driven without a track for the safety of the animals so Cast Members always have the ability to stop quickly if needed. And, for Cast Members driving the trucks, a lot of multi-tasking is involved. They need to narrate the attraction and keep their eyes peeled for animals in the distance they can point out to Guests, while also driving some very expensive vehicles, staying alert in case nearby animals come close to the road, and watching that Guests in the truck remain seated.

Landscaping & Disney Magic

Kilimanjaro Safari

Photo Credit: Disney

Many of the plants and landscaping in general Guests see on Kilimanjaro Safaris is real and authentic to Africa, with a large number of trees and shrubbery imported from the continent and planted at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Still, others are actually native Florida plants that are trimmed in a way that makes them look like their African cousins, and other pieces of landscape design are entirely fabricated. One example of a Disney-created feature is the elephant tusk marks in the clay leading to the elephant habitat. The marks offer Guests an example of what you would see in the wild, however, elephants are not walking the same path as the safari vehicles, so these marks are indeed Disney-created.

Other pieces of landscaping Disney Imagineers created for the attraction include the Baobab tree (or upside-down tree) as your vehicle turns to enter the savanna and the ostrich eggs. The tree is not entirely conducive to the changing climate of Florida, and while the safari certainly does include ostriches, their real eggs would be kept backstage where Disney’s Animal and Sciences Cast Members could safely monitor them.

Where Are the Animals?

Credit: Disney

Like any zoo, the animals at Kilimanjaro Safaris may be resting out of Guest view at any given time. This is why one of the biggest tips for visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom is often to take your safari earlier in the day, as many of the animals will be more active in the morning. Still, the animals you see can definitely vary by the time of day and the weather, so it is never a bad idea to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris more than once (I always seem to have luck seeing lots of animals right after it rains!)

As for the animals you do see, Disney does offer some extra amenities to help keep some of them in view of Guests. The lion habitat for instance features lots of breezy fans and water misters to keep them cool so you can often see them lounging on top of the rockwork. For other animals, food is strategically placed in ways they would find it in the wild, so Guests can have a great view of them, as in the case of giraffes who can often be spotted using their long necks to pull food from the tallest trees on the savanna.

For a closer look at some of the animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris, we recommend booking a backstage tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom like Caring for Giants, which gets you closer to the elephants, or the Wild Africa Trek, which offers a closer look at numerous animals and the savanna plus an adventurous walk about the crocodiles.

What about baby animals? Under the direction of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Walt Disney World has several successful breeding programs. You may not always see baby animals on the safari right away, though. Disney’s Animals and Sciences team is careful to allow lots of backstage bonding time between mom and any babies before they return to their habitats on the attraction.

You may spot some, like baby gorillas, if you walk through the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail at the ride’s exit, but otherwise, we can keep you updated here on Disney Fanatic with news of animal births from Disney ahead of their debut at the Harambe Reserve with Kilimanjaro Safaris!

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."

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