Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

I recently wrote a blog about the Maharajah Jungle Trek located in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I called this attraction a “hidden treasure” since it is so often overlooked by guests visiting this park. Today, I’m writing about its sister attraction found in Africa, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This is another hidden treasure and should not be skipped. “Pangani” is Swahili for “place of enchantment.”

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Sign

Located near the exit of Kilimanjaro Safari, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail offers guests a chance to view a number of East African animals at a more relaxed pace than the “two-week expedition” that they may have just enjoyed. But entrance into this nature preserve is not limited to those who just returned from the safari. Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is open to anyone in the area with the entrance just to the left of the Harambe Railway Station.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Entrance

The Exploration Trail passes through the Pangani Forest Conservation School and Wildlife Sanctuary. This educational center is a joint effort between the citizens of Harambe and international preservation groups. It is overseen by Dr. Kulunda and is staffed by research students from around the world. These students are stationed throughout the center and are more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the animals.

Trail Entrance

Harambe/Pangani Forest Conservation Sign

Research Student

The first exhibit found along the trail is an abandoned termite mound. A side portion of this rock-hard structure built of mud and termite saliva has been cut away. This allows guests to peer into the hidden world of this subterranean insect. Careful observation will reveal food storage areas, underground farming, air conditioning, nurseries, and water reserves.

Termite Mound

Termite Sign

The next stop along the trail is the Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre. This area has been set aside for the care and rehabilitation of wild African species. Endangered animals are provided with shelter, medical care, and relocation to a protected environment once it is considered safe to do so.

Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre

Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre

Currently, the Angolan Blank & White Colobus Monkey is being cared for here. These monkeys are from neighboring forests where over-hunting has caused serious declines in their population.

Colobus monkeys live in small groups of ten to fifteen. Births peak during the rainy season and the newborns are completely white. Their coloring doesn’t begin to emerge until about three months of age. Their black and white fur is a form of protection as it breaks up their outline and makes it difficult to spot them in the trees.

Colobus Monkeys

Colobus Monkeys

Further down the trail is an Observation Blind. Blinds like this are used to observe animals without disturbing their instinctive behaviors. Careful study of an animal in its natural habitat is the first step to understanding how they survive in the wild. This information can then be shared with others and solutions for insuring their protection can be found. One of the best rules to follow when observing animals in the wild is to be quiet. All of the surrounding creatures can hear better than you.

Observation Blind Sign

Two of the animals currently seen here are the Yellow-backed Duiker and the Okapi.

The duiker (an antelope) eats leaves, buds, herbs, berries and several insects like termites and ants. They weigh between 125 and 175 pounds and they can live from between 10 and 12 years. Their natural enemies are the leopard, crocodile, and python.

Even though you might think the okapi is related to the zebra due to the stripes on its hind quarters, it’s actually the only known relative to the giraffe. It is theorized that the giraffe developed a longer neck in response to heavy competition for food in the sparse savannah grasslands. Whereas the okapi didn’t face similar struggles in the densely overgrown rainforest. On a nearby table, the skulls of both animals point out the similarities of the two beasts.


Duiker and Okapi

Okapi and Giraffe Skulls

Near the Observation Blind are chalkboards and a bulletin board containing information about recent sightings. Dr. Kulunda and the research students take copious notes which can be studied here at your leisure.

Research Bulletin Board

Next along the trail we come to the Research Center used by Dr. Kulunda and the team of research students. A desk and numerous bookshelves and cabinets store the equipment they use in their studies.

Research Desk

Research Bookshelves

Also in the Research Center are a number of terrariums housing such creatures as the Spiny Tailed Lizard, Pancake Tortoise, Spiny Mice, and African Hedgehog. These are all being studied by Dr. Kulunda.


But the most interesting of all the specimens here are the Naked Mole Rats. These animals were unknown to the modern world until the mid-1970’s when researchers brought their unique lifestyle to light.

Naked Mole Rats

Naked Mole Rats

Neither a mole or a rat, these creatures are more closely related to porcupines, chinchillas, and guinea pigs. They are considered “eusocial” which is extremely rare in mammals. Their behavior more closely resembles ants, termites, and bees as they live in a social atmosphere with a queen, several drones, and many workers. Colonies in the wild range from 20 to 300 individuals with the average consisting of around 75. Naked Mole Rats have extremely poor eyesight and for the most part, are hairless. They live their entire life underground and constantly dig tunnels in search of food.

When leaving the Research Center, you enter a large aviary. A wooden walkway crosses over a stream filled with several varieties of colorful fish. A beautiful waterfall is on hand and twenty-three species of birds fly and swim in this area for your enjoyment.




In the 1950’s, the Nile Perch was naively introduced into Lake Victoria for commercial fishing purposes. In no time at all, this aggressive fish began to decimate the native aquatic population and continues to drastically change the ecosystem here.

As part of an international conservation effort, Harambe and the Wildlife Sanctuary have been selected to study the “Lake Victoria Cichlid,” one of the endangered species. It is hoped that they can learn more about this fish and help rebuild its population.


Lake Victoria Cichlid

In order to get the most out of the aviary, you need to take your time. Many of the birds are well camouflaged and careful observation is required to find them. A Bird Spotting Guide can be picked up as you enter the aviary. Here we see an African Green Pigeon and the African Jacana.

Bird Spotting Guide

African Green Pigeon

African Jacana

Note, guests with service animals should check with a host or hostess before entering the aviary.

The next stop on our journey brings us to the hippopotamus viewing area. Like many of the other animals found in and around Harambe, the Pangani Wildlife Sanctuary is studying these unique animals.

There are an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 hippos living throughout Africa, but habitat loss is a continuing problem. It was once thought that pigs were the closest genetic relative to the hippo, but in the 1980’s it was discovered that they are more closely related to whales and porpoises. Despite their short legs and considerable size, a hippopotamus can easily outrun a man and is considered to be the most aggressive animal in the world. To keep their large bodies cool, hippos spend much of the day huddled together in lakes and streams. At dusk, they emerge to graze on nearby grasses.

When looking for hippos at the Sanctuary, be sure to peer deep toward the back area of the wading pool. Often, they can be seen here, sleeping on the lake bottom. If you visit this area between 4:00 to 4:30, the hippos are frequently more active and you can see them walking near the viewing portals.

Hippopotamus Viewing Area

Sleeping Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus Skull

The two big attractions at the next observation point are the gerenuk and meerkat.

Meerkat Viewing Area

The gerenuk is a species of antelope and the name means “giraffe-necked” in the Somali language. The unique construction of the animal’s pelvis allows it to stand on its hind legs and reach leaves, shoots, flowers and fruit that are out of reach of other animals. Male gerenuk grow horns and the species mate year round. Their life span is about eight years in the wild, but they can live thirteen years or more in captivity.



Have you ever wondered what animal Timon from The Lion King was patterned after? Well wonder no more. It’s the meerkat.

Meerkats are members of the mongoose family and eat a variety of insects along with reptiles, plants, and eggs. They live in “clans” of about twenty and forage for food as a group. However, one meerkat is always designated as “sentry” and stands a protective watch for about an hour before being replaced by another clan member.

Many tribesmen in Zimbabwean believe the meerkat to be a sun angel that protects villages and stray cattle from werewolf attacks. I don’t remember Timon mentioning this in the movie.



The last and largest viewing area of the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail showcases the Lowland Gorilla. Visitors first enter a research camp where a large window has been constructed for observation. It’s important to note, the gorillas can see and hear you so please be respectful of their home and do NOT tap on the glass.

Gorilla Research Center

Researcher spend days at a time monitoring these animals. In the surrounding area you can see a field desk used by Dr. Kulunda and bunk-beds complete with mosquito netting.

Research Desk

Bunk Beds

There are also a number of displays scattered around the observation room. One features the skulls of a male and female gorilla next to a human’s. In addition, the researchers have prepared a large chalkboard with interesting facts about this close relative to man. And as always, a student is on hand to answer questions.

Gorilla and Human Skulls

Gorilla Facts and Figures (Chalkboard)

If you examine some of the nearby crates, you’ll discover that poaching is still a constant threat to these remarkable animals.


If none of the gorillas are currently in view here, continue moving along the trail where you’ll come to a swaying suspension bridge. On the other side is a beautiful valley where the animals spend much of their time. A nearby map describes their daily activity patterns complete with nesting and feeding areas.

Suspension Bridge

Valley Map

Gorillas are the largest of the primates. Adult males achieve a height of almost six feet and weigh from 310 to 440 pounds. Adult females are around 4 1/2 feet in height and weigh around 220 pounds. A gorilla’s life expectancy is between 30 and 50 years. Adult males, typically over the age of twelve, develop a distinctive patch of silver hair on their backs.

Gorillas live in groups called a troop with one dominate male making all decisions. A troop consists of between 5 and 30 animals. Gorillas are herbivores, spending most of their day eating fruits, leaves, and shoots.




The valley is a “quiet zone.” Please speak in hushed tones to preserve the natural atmosphere found here. Gorillas view excessive noise and waving arms as a threat. This is their home and we are just visitors in this “place of enchantment.”

Gorilla Valley

Near the exit of Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a Kids’ Discovery Club desk. Here, a cast member will help children with several clues related to animals. For example, Clue 1 challenges children to identify the tracks found in the ground with the appropriate diagram. When they have solve all of the puzzles, the cast member then presents them with a Kids’ Discovery Club Membership Card. On the reverse side, the six lands of the Animal Kingdom are listed. The cast member will help the child stamp the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail space, indicating that they have completed this challenge. Check your guide map for a “K”, indicating the other “Kid Discovery Club” locations around the park

Animal Clue


Kids' Discovery Club

Kids Discovery Club

As you exit the park, pay attention to the cave you are about to enter. It takes very little imagination to discover that the rocks form a giant turtle.

Turtle Cave

Found earlier along the trail is a rock formation in the form of Jafar from the movie Aladdin. See if you can find him without asking for help.

The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a wonderful part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It should not be skipped just to race to some “thrilling” attraction. The animals here are magnificent and provide a “natural” thrill if you’ll just let them.

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23 Replies to “Pangani Forest Exploration Trail”

  1. I don’t see the turtle in the rock formation

    Jack’s Answer:

    The top of the tunnel is the turtle’s body. The sides of the tunnel are his legs. And there is an outcropping that represents his head.

  2. Hi Jack, I must have visited AK at least 20 times before I actually noticed the Maharajah Jungle Trek and decided to see what was back there. Tigers! So Beautiful! I was so excited. The setting made me feel like I had gone back in time and halfway around the world within a few minutes time. I guess it pays to do WDW at least once all by yourself, just to take your time and take everything in!

  3. Hi Jack..Just finished reading your segment on Epcot’s Spaceship Earth & also the pieces about the different benches, seating,etc in all of the different parks! Spaceship Earth is one of my ‘new’ favorite attractions & seeing all your great pix made me go excited to visit again.
    Even seeing the benches @ the Magic Kingdom (some of which are yearly photo ops for my family..seems like I always get the ‘Goofy’ one & the one, as soon as you enter ‘Adventureland’!!) Anyways~seeing these ‘old favorites’ is really putting me in the mood to get back there..A little over a month to go..WOOHOO!!
    Alot of the seating areas that you photo’d are so picturesque & are on my list of ‘spots’ to visit this year..I will definetly be taking time to ‘stop & smell the Disney roses’ this time!! Great piece as always Jack!!

  4. Thanks Jack for yet another wonderful post/walk through! I prefer the Maharajah Jungle Trek simply because I enjoy walking through the ruins but I whole heartedly agree the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is NOT to be missed!!! Both trails are a very welcome diversion from “commando” style touring. I enjoy taking hours just meandering though both trails and taking the time to “smell the roses”. Thanks once again for highlighting these little treasures often lost in the vastness in the wide wide Walt Disney World!!


  5. We always get to AK early, grab a fastpass for the safari, and go straight to Pangani. We are ALONE on the trail (other than the helpful cast members who are always full of interesting tips!) the entire way, and it’s a very relaxing start to our day.

  6. another hole in one, mr. spence! as many times as i’ve been to ak, i still cannot remember that termite mound! oh well, i guess i’ll have to go back again! ps..the gorilla is getting to used to humans, some of your photos of ‘him’ looked real posed! say cheese!! thanks again for putting a couple of magical moments into my day!

  7. You mustv’e been there the same day I was! We saw that antellope doing the same thing! I was there on the 16th. I was wondering what on earth he was doing!

  8. Jack,

    Just wanted to say thanks to you and the Allears team. We just returned from a trip last evening and thanks to you we did not miss the Pangani Forest Trail. One of your previous blogs on Rafiki’s planet watch led us to take the time to ride the train to Conservation Station in pursuit of the Kids Discovery Club. Having started the adventure our boys 5 and 3 wanted to complete their cards which took us to the Pangani Forest Trail for one of the stamps. We have always wanted to experience this but as you have said passed it by to experience other thrill rides. It has always been on our list but with so much to do it has always been overlooked. With the Kids Discovery Club we could not pass it by this time and had a wonderful time. After reading this blog it only makes we want to look even closer and spend more time on another trip. Thanks so much to you and the Allears team, we had such a great time with our boys as they discoverd so much of what the Animal Kingdom has to offer.


  9. Hi Jack,

    Another great blog! This had to be one of my favorite parts of the Animal Kingdom. I have tons of pictures from the aviary alone. Since it is one of the quieter parts of the park, we were able to stand and watch many of the birds up close. A few of the birds became curious enough to walk up to us. One came up to my foot, stopped, looked up at me and then ran back into cover…emerging a few seconds later with three more “friends” to have a look!

    Definitely a part of the park not to be missed.

  10. What a great blog! I thought I had been on the Pangani trail before but after seeing your pictures I think I confused it with something else because this was all new information for me. I am definitely going to make a point of checking this out in January. I absolutely love finding out new things about Animal Kingdom Park because so much of the detailing gets overlooked in the mad rush from one ride to the next and it really is such a beautiful area. Thanks!

  11. Hey Jack
    Once again great blog. I love visiting Animal Kingdom. I have only been on the jungle trek once but I absolutly loved it. I can’t wait to vist it again and for your next blog.

  12. Another great article! This is also one of my favorite attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We were lucky enough one year, on a very hot April day, because one of the gorillas was actually napping up against the large observation window. It was amazing to be able to obsevere it up so close. We never miss the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.

  13. Pangani is a favorite of mine, I love all the info and animals, plus I scored a Year of a Million Dreams Dream Fastpass on the trail, so I will always have fond memories!

  14. Thanks so much for your informative artical on Pangani Forest. We were last in Animal Kingdom in 1999. The other couple we were with didnt want to go into the Forest, so we bypassed. Ill never do that again. Loved the descriptions and Pix of the animals. We are trying to Move down to Fla, so we may go to the World more often. Keep up the good Work. Thanks so much.

  15. Hi Jack,

    I thought the only reason to go to Animal Kingdom was to ride Expedition Everest a few times before it gets too crowded then head to the other parks.

    After seeing your blog and reading some of the comments, Pangani may be one of the best kept secrets in “The World” (Walt Disney World).

    Thanks for all your hard work and pictures.


  16. Jack, as always, another excellent blog. I’ve been through Pangani three or four times, and find new things to look at each time. I didn’t know gerenuks could stand on hind legs to feed! And I did not know about the turtle and Jafar rock formations — I will be watching for those next time.

    One of my favourite things about Animal Kingdom and these trails is that someone is always available to answer questions. I’ve learned a lot without really trying. It’s an excellent environment.

    Have you done Kids Discovery Club? I’m entertained by all the same things as kids (despite being an adult), but wasn’t sure about this one.

  17. Jack,

    As always, an informative and fun-filled article. Animal Kingdom is near the top of my list of all-time great places, and the Pangani Forest Trail is one of their best attractions. Thanks for the great article!

    Also, I was very glad to meet you and the rest of the All Ears Team at AK the other day. It was wonderful to put faces with the names, so to speak, and to make you acquaintance in person.

  18. Hello Jack,

    I just returned from the World and had a great time walking through Pangani! You’re right, this and the Maharaja Jungle Trek should not be missed.

    A tip for others: If you’re waiting on a Fastpass for another attraction, these trails are nice because you can see as little or as much as you want, and go through as slowly or quickly as you want, and come back later for more. Also, these trails are excellent for people who would like to slow down the pace a bit as well as those who use wheelchairs (the trails are very wide). You can also stroll along with a snack and beverage, there are plenty of trash cans available. After the frenetic pace of touring Disney, it’s an amazing contrast to encounter these animals, many of whom are just relaxing or stretching – and are never in a hurry.

    Jack, thanks for yet another wonderful blog!

    A. D. Johnson
    Littleton, CO

  19. What the heck? I PRIDE myself on the Jafar rock formation, and then, you go and have the “NERVE” to show me the turtle formation?

    Holy cow! You are killing me Jack Spence! Great work!

    I have never, ever read about the turtle formation! Excellent post with picture! You may be the first blogger to post about it!!!

    Good job and two thumbs up!

  20. Hello again Jack, from Buenos Aires in our countdown (39 days left) I must say that in our only visit to AK (feb-08) we have skipped maharajah and Pangani, Not again. We´ll be there in next January and thanks to you. I must say that I loved very much your Blizzard Beach blog too. In fact I like very much all your blogs, as I always say to you!!
    Looking forward to your next comment to learn something funny and new!! thank you!!

  21. Shame on me! With several trips to the World and visiting the Animal Kingdom so many times we have always skipped Pangani Forest Exploration Trail!!! It is now for sure on my list for our next trip now soon to come in January! =)
    Thanks for another great report Jack! To me it was truly an eye opener, we had always overlooked this attraction, that we now know is so great and will be very educational to our daughter!

    Our best Holiday Wishes to you and your family!

    Theresa Konno

  22. Once again a wonderful blog about one of my favorite places in the Animal Kingdom. I never knew about the Jafar rock formation and will be on the look out for it on our next trip (which unfortunately won’t be until 2011).

    Thanks for keeping the magic going all year long with your very detailed blogs…. they’re the next best thing to being there!