For decades, the corporate mission statement of the Walt Disney Co. was quality family entertainment. Their ability to excel at storytelling was one of the great qualities of Walt and his team. The theme parks all have a story to tell as well and the tale of Disney’s Animal Kingdom revolves around animals and the natural world. Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s version of Africa is a East African fishing village named Harambe (tranlsated as working together in Swahili).
The choice of a fictitious location versus an actual destination was deliberate; it allows the story to be central in its presentation to the guest rather than a specific country or defined political history. Harambe is on the edge of civilization and wilderness, providing us the access to see the animals and learn more about conservation and preservation of endangered species.
Architectural design here is modeled largely on Swahili architecture and neglecting the colonial influences so frequently found on the continent. Although there are remnants of British and Portuguese encampments, the main design influences are from local and native traditions of the people of Africa.
Disney has continued to expand their vision when creating the parks. This comes from years of experience in telling stories, but also requires larger plats of land to build the settings for these tales. For reference, Disneyland is roughly 85 acres whereas the Magic Kingdom is about 107 acres, while Kilimanjaro Safaris is roughly the same size as the Magic Kingdom at 110 acres and the entire park is 500 acres.
Landscaping is integral to forming the stories here at the Walt Disney World Resort. Part of the story in Africa is the natural world, both animal and vegetation. There are over 330 species of grasses used in Africa with more than 770,000 shrubs and almost 70,000 trees that form the basis for the land. The landscape architects began planting the park a full year-and-a-half before opening. This allowed certain plants a chance to get acclimated to the Florida climate while also allowing natural growth to fill in and present a lush landscape for the park’s opening.
The first animals to arrive at the park were two young giraffes named Miles and Zari. They were quickly dubbed the park’s ambassadors and began a long list of animals to arrive to populate the new park.
The animals are just like you and me, they don’t like the heat. If you want a better chance at seeing the animals try getting to the safari when it first opens. The animals are more active early in the morning, especially when feeding.