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Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a walk-through live animal exhibit near the exit from Kilimanjaro Safaris. Several species of animals are visible in habitats ranging from savannah and water to forest and a cleverly disguised aviary. While not as extensive as a large-city zoo, the diversity and the quality of the exhibits is very impressive. Near the end of the trail is Africa's Kid's Discovery Club activity center.
This exhibit opened on April 22, 1998 under the name Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. Originally it was planned to be a research station, and those who successfully aided the hunt for the poachers were rewarded with special access to this usually private area. With the watering down of the poacher story in Kilimanjaro Safaris, this explicit backstory was abandoned. Signs for the research station can still be found in the area.
The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a barometer of the Animal Kingdom itself. If you get it, if you like it, you're going to like most of the park. If, on the other hand, you see it as another Disney attempt to educate, you probably will be disappointed in the park overall.
Not surprisingly, we here at NahTahZu.com get it, and like it. As with most of
the animal areas in the park, the trail is full of ingenious habitats, with no
obvious barriers. The theming is intricate, and now that the park is over a
decade old, the natural growth of the trees and plants really gives this
attraction a forest feel.
The areas that you will visit along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail are:
Okapi observation post. Here you will see the Okapi, the strange animals that look like zebra relatives but are actually closely related to giraffes. Apparently it is the long, black tongue that gives it away. Also in this area are Stanley Cranes and Yellow-backed Duikers (an antelope relative).
Gorilla Falls Research Station, which takes its name from the original purposing of this exhibit. Here you find lots of small animals, or at least the skeletons of small animals. But your visit will only be complete when you look in on the world-famous Naked Mole Rats (who can't love an animal with that name?).
Aviary. We've said it already, but it bears repeating: this is very clever. On our first several trips through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, we really didn't notice the fact that we were inside a huge net, and only later noticed the clever entry and exit system used to allow guests to pass while keeping the residents in. The aviary is home to many exotic African species. The most colorful are the Lady's Ross Turaco, Bearded Barbet (both red and black), and the Taveta Golden Weaver, not to mention the four varieties of stunningly-beautiful starlings.
Underwater exhibit. Here you look into a wading pool from below the surface, so that at first you think it's an aquarium. Small fish dominate the view at first, and it is always fun to watch for the first person to spot the Nile hippopotamuses (usually a small child, but occasionally a taller guest sees them from above the waterline). Further study will reveal turtles sharing the pond with the large mammals.
Savannah overlook. You've been waiting for this, perhaps since the warthogs on Kilimanjaro Safaris; meerkats! Yes, they are here, but for those of us introduced to them by the more stylized Timon from The Lion King, it can be hard to tell them apart from prairie dogs. Plus, even after watching for what seems like hours, we have yet to see one of them burst into song while on guard duty. Behind the meerkats are a variety of savannah vegetarians, like the Gerenuk (a.k.a. giraffe gazelle), Gunther's Dik-Dik (named for the sound they make: zik-zik), and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill.
Gorilla Falls. The biggest draw of the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail (and therefore usually the most crowded and slow-moving) is the gorilla exhibit. A troop (consisting of several families) of Western Lowland Gorillas call the Animal Kingdom home, with members ranging from tiny diapered infants to the silverback head honcho. There are several overlook areas, so if the first one is full, move on to the next, and don't be afraid to backtrack if the crowd thins.
One last thing: Beware of Buffalo!
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