Welcome to part two of our journey through Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail! We are exploring this attraction located in Animal Kingdom’s Africa. This experience is lush, informative, unique, and not something any guest should overlook. Fully accessible to all ages and those with mobility concerns, it provides a unique glimpse into species that live throughout the African continent. As we continue our journey, we approach the Savannah Overlook. The overlook is a round shaded hut that provides views of Grevy’s zebra and meerkat.
Meerkats are easily viewable at eye level and below. These animals live in groups called “mobs,” where every member plays a specific role. The above-ground behavior and burrows replicate those seen in dry climates in Africa. Burrow complexes can consist of up to three levels and fifteen entrances. Meerkats live in dry arid climates in countries like Namibia, Botswana, and Angola. Cast members at Animal Kingdom work to ensure they remain engaged with their environment and act as naturally as possible.
Melons, gourds, and pumpkins are hollowed out to give the meerkat new tastes and textures to enjoy. Puzzle feeders require the meerkat to be crafty with the promise of a tasty treat. Meerkats have varied diets and are fed a mix of meat and bugs. Their habitat includes a feeding station where the creatures are trained to stand at mealtime, with the goal of each group member receiving an appropriate level of nutrients. It must be quite a sight to see their medical exams! Meerkats live in tight and exclusive social groups, and a member leaving (even accidentally) can result in their permanent rejection. Therefore, when one meerkat needs a check-up, the entire group goes together, and no one is excluded.
Grevy’s zebra differ from Hartmann’s mountain counterparts on Kilimanjaro Safaris with larger round ears. This breed is the largest of the zebra at four to five feet in height and weighs 770 to 950 pounds. Narrower heads resemble a mule. Zebras are a tough and irritable species, but Grevy’s are especially spirited. These are the most endangered breed of zebra in the world. Per a Disney Parks Blog post from 2018, only about 2,500 are left worldwide. Most of this population lives in Kenya. Grevy’s born at Animal Kingdom in 2018 were part of a successful effort through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP works to breed healthy and diverse populations of threatened and endangered species.
Our next stop finally takes us to the gorillas! We proceed to the Gorilla Outpost, which looks into the Gorilla Sanctuary. The outpost is a covered structure that shows the gorillas through the glass. Infants are often seen playing here, enjoying time with their parents. I have heard Cast members sometimes move guests along who wish to linger and watch the primates when at play; however that has not been my experience.
Animal Kingdom hosts a western lowland gorilla troop with males weighing up to 450 pounds and standing up to six feet in height. An adult male gorilla’s upper body strength can exceed six times that of an adult human. Western lowland gorillas live in jungles in countries like Cameroon and Gabon. In 2010 Disney’s Animal Programs collaborated with several organizations to complete the first phase of construction on GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center). GRACE’s mission is to create a stable wild population of Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The organization provides care to rescued gorillas and collaborates with communities in the DRC to promote the conservation of the species in the wild and their habitat. According to GRACE’s official website, Disney’s Animal Kingdom continues to provide veterinary and scientific support and expertise to several advisory groups.
Gorillas located in the park highlight that Animal Kingdom is not a zoo or simply a theme park; but a conservation park. GRACE’s website describes it as a “zoological theme park,” and I think the description is apt. All animals visible to guests in the park are there for visitors to connect with, increasing an appreciation and concern for our natural world.
Cast members strive to create a stimulating environment for residents of the park, including the gorillas. While Walt Disney World was shut down in May 2020, the animal care team gave one-year Grace a princess-themed birthday party. They created a princess carriage with horses constructed using cardboard and paper chains which Grace and her family played with. A cardboard castle and piñata completed the scene. Her three-layered cake was made from blocks of ice with berries and currants, and frozen pureed sweet potatoes and kiwis cut into shapes. Activities such as these are common in the gorilla sanctuary, providing enrichment for its inhabitants.
Season two of Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom was filmed here in April 2022. I was on the trail when an area was roped off, and I asked if they were filming season two of the popular series and received a definitive yes! As one exits the Gorilla Sanctuary, we pass through a canyon of rocks and begin to return to the hustle and bustle of the park. Before our final exit, we pass the backside of the colobus habitat.
This concludes our journey through the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. The entrance to Rafiki’s Planet Watch is conveniently located near the exit of this area. Visiting Kilimanjaro Safaris, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch can easily fill a couple of hours, just in one section of the park. Not too far away is a walkway to Asia. The walk is shrouded in lush flora and provides a stunning view of the backside of the Tree of Life.
Do you have a favorite section of this attraction? Is there an aspect of Animal Kingdom you would care to hear more about? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Spencer Wright is passionate about Walt Disney World, Disney Film, History, and Old Hollywood. He works in Center City Philadelphia and lives in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. He looks forward to writing articles for The Dis Unplugged; currently focusing on Animal Kingdom and the creatures that live there.