Kwaherini Little Red and Warden Wilson Matua! by Jenn Romano

Kilimanjaro Safari is the anchor attraction for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This twenty minute safari trip through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve is one of the hallmarks of the Animal Kingdom because it does what the park is meant to do: put animals center stage. These animals are real; they are living, breathing examples of different species from parts of Africa. This safari was an opening day attraction in 1998 when the Animal Kingdom first started welcoming guests, and the ride is never the same, which definitely increases re-ride ability.
In the past few years, the safari has seen many changes. The Little Red Audio-Animatronic was removed from the ride’s finale in preparation for a new animal habitat. It is always interesting to learn about how attractions change over the years. Walt never wanted his parks to be unchanging; he believed that he could keep adding to them in order to keep them fresh for new visitors. Now, truly to understand the evolution of this particular ride, one must re-visit its past.

The safari did not always have the same storyline that it most recently possesses. In the very beginning, this ride actually featured a more prominent anti-poaching message to its riders. Warden Wilson Matua and his research assistant, Ms. Jobson, had much more pronounced roles in this version of the safari as well. Wilson and Ms. Jobson were on a plane flying over the Reserve, and they would often talk to you via the castmember’s radio device as you journeyed in your safari vehicle. As you continued your exploration and viewing of various animals, Wilson would get increasingly more concerned about poaching on the Reserve. As ready and willing members of the Safari team, you, the riders, were encouraged to help Wilson hunt down the poachers. In the initial cast previews and test/adjust time period for the ride, a giant carcass of a slaughtered Big Red (the mother elephant) could be viewed in the tall grass near a busted gate into the Reserve. Big Red was missing her tusks, and this could be attributed to poaching. This figure was soon removed due to the many complaints received at guest relations.

After rushing through the broken gate, your truck moved quite roughly as you encountered the uneven terrain and the small geysers in the area. You were even chased by a jeep that fired shots at your safari vehicle. In the end, Little Red was saved, and a cast member standing next to Little Red informed you that all was well.

Over the years, this storyline has been continually tweaked in order to make the Little Red story change and eventually evaporate all together from the plot of the ride. Most recently, Little Red played a part in the story, but it was an exceedingly small part, which involved her placement at the end of the ride and a quick pass from the safari vehicle through the poachers’ camp. The cast member at the end of the ride near Little Red’s escape vehicle is now also absent.

In the past few years, Little Red has been totally removed from the ride. It has been interesting to see how this attraction has changed so much over the years. The message of conservation is still evident and so is the anti-poaching message; however I miss the excitement of racing through the finale of the ride in order to nab those poachers. I also miss the Little Red animatronic as well as the presence of everyone’s favorite Warden Matua.

In the upcoming years, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will continue to grow and change with the addition of Pandora. I can’t wait to see how this area of the park is enhanced and how it adds to the overall message of the Animal Kingdom. I am nervous to see how the public receives these new characters because of all of the controversy on the addition of Avatar. In the end, I am adopting a “wait and see” attitude because I know that WDI will do their best to create a truly immersive land that will add much needed attractions to Animal Kingdom. Until next time, have a magical day, and keep moving forward!

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