The Dark History of Animal Kingdom’s Most Iconic Attraction

Kilimanjaro Safaris is a classic attraction at Walt Disney World, premiering in 1998 on Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s opening day.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Every time we’re about to board one of the attraction’s massive open-air trucks (which can hold up to 32 passengers) we know we’re in a for a thrilling ride where we’ll get to see tons of beautiful animals spread across over 100 acres of land.

At least, that’s the Kilimanjaro Safaris we all know and love as it is now, but did you know Disney had different plans for the ride while Animal Kingdom was being built and that it’s changed since its inception?

We love this ride — we aren’t lion!

Scripted Danger

Instead of just being a guided tour where guests could snap photos and learn a few interesting facts about their favorite animals, the first version of Kilimanjaro Safaris included a scripted portion with a very dark plot twist.

Harambe Wildlife Preserve

First of all, it’s important to state the Disney Imagineers meant well when they tried to broach the rather gruesome subject of animal poaching on what’s otherwise a very fun and light-hearted ride. Poaching has had a tremendous impact on Africa’s wildlife, especially its elephant population which has become a vulnerable species due to poachers killing them for their tusks. This is why the original attraction included a doomed mother elephant named Big Red and her calf, Baby Red.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

During the original version of Kilimanjaro Safaris, “Simba-1” (the callsign of the safari truck) would be radioed by a scientist and the habitat warden to help track down a group of elephant poachers who had captured Big Red and her baby. This led to a wild pursuit where eventually the safari truck would come across the horribly murdered corpse of Big Red. Seeing her lying there bloody with her tusks sawn off was supposed to symbolize that we’d gotten there too late to save her.

Safaris Changes

Rather fortunately, Baby Red was spared, but as you can imagine, this gory scene did not test well during Cast Previews where guests first saw it. Big Red’s dead body was removed from the ride before Animal Kingdom opened to the general public.

Poaching Sign

Although not so heavy-handed, poaching has remained a part of Kilimanjaro Safari’s plot. Depending on your experience, a driver might point out evidence of poachers being in the area, but the adventure is much more focused on being a family-friendly adventure instead of a harsh look at reality.

What do you think of Kilimanjaro’s gory past? Do you think Disney did the right thing removing Big Red from the ride? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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