Let’s take a trip through the savannah on Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom!
Source: Disney Parks Blog
The third part of a series of articles takes us through the Harambe Wildlife Sanctuary in Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris.
After crossing the peaceful little forest of Ituri and along the dangerous Safi river, we have now reached the savannah. It is an open plain full of life. At the beginning of the journey in the savannah, customers see the baobab tree.
Safari guides ensure that visitors to the reserve notice this tree. Baobabs are a crucial part of the savannah. They provide shelter for snakes, bats, bees, etc. By storing water in arid ecosystems, elephants and other large animals will chew the bark, harming the baobab tree. Animals and humans eat trees, fruits and seeds. Fruits are rich in calcium, minerals and antioxidants. The Tree of Life at the center of Animal Kingdom is modeled after the Baobab tree, referred to by that name in parts of Africa. Researchers are studying the tree that lives in the dry savannahs of Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Drought, mold, fungi and animals eating the bark endanger the tree in many places, but it is key to the savannah ecosystem.
Giraffes are probably the most important animal on Kilimanjaro safaris, and they never fail to impress. The world’s tallest land mammal, they often get incredibly close to vehicles, causing “giraffe traffic jams”. Baby giraffes, whose height starts at around 1.80 meters, are common in the savannah and reach their full size around the age of four. Masai giraffes found in the savannah are orange-brown in color and are the darkest species. For the past few years I believe I have seen Maasai and Reticulated Giraffes in the savannah. While it is now exclusively Masai, you can still see reticulated giraffes at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Sitting puts African savanna giraffes at risk of being attacked by predators; therefore, actually sitting is rare. This behavior is not unusual in the Animal Kingdom savannah, confirming that they feel safe and comfortable in the reserve.
Wildebeest are unique-looking animals with curved horns, a heavy front end, and spindly legs. About 80% of wildebeest calves are born in the same two to three week period. Safari guides mention their migration, which follows the rains around a loop of a thousand miles. Across the Serengeti in Tanzania and on to the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, their migration includes more than 1.5 million wildebeest, tens of thousands of zebras and other antelopes. No conflict exists between wildebeest and zebra, which eat different parts of the same grass. Eating grass and keeping it short helps prevent the spread of fires. The first episode of Great migrations on Disney+ shows the harsh realities of their migration.
The Painted Dogs or African Wild Dogs live in their own enclosure to the left of the Safari vehicle, reaching the Savannah in December 2015. Absolutely gorgeous with large round ears and paint-like spots, they have white tipped bushy tails . Mainly due to habitat fragmentation, their populations are in serious decline and they are among the most endangered mammals on the planet. Introducing them to Animal Kingdom helps raise awareness of the species. Since 1996, the Disney Conservation Fund has provided financial support to organizations seeking to conserve and study these magnificent animals.
Packs ranging from seven to fifteen and even up to 40 members care for each other, care for pups and share food. Each time the pack wakes up and returns from a hunt, they try to interact with each other in elaborate ceremonies. Each dog has unique yelps and yelps.
Termite mounds exist throughout the savannah, and while termites are a serious pest to probably anyone reading this, they are crucial to this habitat. In African and Australian savannahs, they eat dead plant matter, clean habitats and recycle nutrients. Mounds up to 16 feet tall are constructed from soil, saliva, and feces. Porous structures have tunnels and passages allowing air to easily rise through a central chimney. The constant air circulation keeps the mound cool and ensures that oxygen enters the lower chambers. Termites usually exit through several tunnels at the base of the mound at night when it is cooler to feed.
While active, termites are frequently eaten by many animals, and seeds will germinate in and on structures. Monitor lizards will lay their eggs indoors, as the temperature is perfect. Once the colonies are extinct, the animals of the savannah settle down. Birds nest, snakes hibernate, dogs and hyenas create dens, and warthogs sleep in the now vacant mounds. The storage of nutrients and moisture in the tunnels hydrates the soil better, and therefore vegetation thrives around the mounds. This aid prevents the dry grasslands and savannah from becoming an arid desert.
HArtmann’s mountain zebras live on the reserve and, like the giraffes, the babies are not an unusual sight. Zebra foals are born with legs nearly as long as an adult’s and can run within 20 minutes of birth. Kicks from their hind legs can easily break the jaws of predators, and the zebra can run nearly 40 miles per hour. episode three of The Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Disney+ shows viewers details about the care and life of the zebra in the savannah.
Ankole cattle, distinctive for their giant horns, date back to ancient Egypt, and today are common in countries like Uganda and Rwanda. Hardy animals can survive on little food and water if needed. Typically, they weigh between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds but can run and jump with impressive agility when needed. The domesticated species has meat that is low in fat and cholesterol, and its milk is high in fat, making it useful for the production of butter and yogurt.
Three races of antelope inhabit the savannah. The Patterson eland is one of the largest antelopes in the world. Moose have light brown coloring and long horns. Calm and easy to housebreak, their milk is rich in protein and fat. Weighing between 1,300 and 2,200 pounds, the meaty bodies make them prime targets for illegal hunters. In September 2019, a calf named Doppler was born; named in honor of his birth after Hurricane Dorian. Sable antelope are much darker than eland and lighter at around 485 to 525 pounds. The calves are reddish brown; as they age, they darken and develop white markings. Their appearance becomes more striking as they age. They grow horns between 21 and 60 inches in length. Three fawns born in the summer of 2011 joined the herd in the savannah in November 2011. They were kept behind the scenes for about two months so that the animal care team could keep a close eye on them. Otherwise, sable mothers will “tuck” calves into tall grass, protecting them from predators. Between December 2014 and January 2015, three male and two female calves were born, giving rise to three generations of sable antelope in the savannah. The sable antelope is the symbol of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. Much smaller (weighing around 100 pounds), the Springbok lives in southwestern Africa in countries like Namibia, Botswana, and Angola. The Springbok is the national animal of South Africa and takes its name from show jumping, called pronk. Springboks can run alongside their mother within an hour of birth, and when she tires, they flatten out and lie down in tall grass, protecting them from predators.
For many reasons, I recommend taking advantage of Kilimanjaro Safaris and immediately returning to Rope Drop (park opening). Focusing on specific animals in the savannah is especially difficult with so much going on. When a baby zebra is hopping or a giraffe is a few meters away, it is difficult to observe the Springbok. If the crowds are smaller, it should be possible to visit the attraction a second time with minimal waiting. I even like to take a trip with a camera ready and following it without any technology in hand. Otherwise, it is extremely difficult to enjoy all that the savannah has to offer.
We will then travel through elephant country and mud pits.
Do you have a favorite animal in the savannah? Feel free to leave a comment !