Home » The Dark Plotline of the Original Kilimanjaro Safaris

    The Dark Plotline of the Original Kilimanjaro Safaris

    Cast member holding the "poachers" at bay with a prop weapon

    Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is well-known for its peaceful trips through the fictional Harambe Wildlife Preserve as a relaxing family attraction showcasing some of Disney’s impressive wildlife collection. Upon boarding a safari truck, guests would pass by a number of animal enclosures and get up close views of animals such as wild dogs, hippos, lions, and rhinos. The ride highlights the beaty of wildlife on a leisurely trip through the African savannah–but this was not always the case.

    During the early days of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests would enter Kilimanjaro Safaris and board the vehicles after being warned about the dangers and impacts of poaching within the preserve. For the majority of the ride, guests would enjoy a slow ride through the savannah, encountering various native African wildlife. Near the end of the ride, however, guests were introduced to a storyline involving a mother elephant and her calf–Big Red and Little Red, respectively–who were reported missing and potentially in danger because of lurking poachers in the area. Guests were then met with the grim sight of the slain mother elephant. With Little Red nowhere to be seen, the vehicle pushed onward, past a camp belonging to the suspected poachers. Before long, the safari truck caught up to the escaping poachers and rescued the little elephant while the preserve’s warden (played by a Disney cast member) held the poachers at gunpoint. 

    Cast member holding the "poachers" at bay with a prop weapon
    (img: Sam Howzit, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

    Although this storyline was a bit intense by Disney standards at the time, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was built with the intention of spreading conservation awareness and drawing attention to the horrors of poaching. The shocking sight of poor Big Red, a victim of cruel poaching methods, was certainly one way to drive the point home.

    Before long, however, guest complaints began rolling in. Many families believed the sight of a killed elephant was too graphic and frightening for younger visitors, and eventually Disney yielded to the complaints and removed the animatronic elephant and the warden with a gun from the experience. The script was also changed to imply that Little Red would be reunited with its mother after being rescued from the back of a poacher’s vehicle.

    The ride remained in this changed condition for a handful of years, but eventually smaller pieces of the poaching storyline would begin to disappear. Finally, in 2012, it was announced that the storyline following Little Red would be removed entirely, and a new animal enclosure would instead make use of the land once used for poacher trucks and animatronic elephants. Visitors at the park can now enjoy a full safari experience in Disney’s Animal Kingdom with only small hints and comments regarding the threat of poaching as a reminder of the original storyline that once took up a large portion of the ride. 

    In-park advertisement for Kilimanjaro Safaris
    (img: Jennifer Lynn, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

    Have you been on the original Kilimanjaro Safaris? Do you prefer the changes that have been made over the years or did you enjoy the incorporation of the Little Red storyline?