Disney World offers African safari park

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 July, 1998, 12:00am

An African safari park complete with wild animals roaming freely across vast grasslands designed to resemble the Serengeti has opened at Disney World in central Florida.

Animal Kingdom is Walt Disney World Resort's fourth and newest theme park. Spread over 202 hectares from the edge of the massive Lake Buena Vista complex, it is also the largest.

'We are the first in the world to build a realistic African savannah,' designer Paul Comstock said.

'It's a huge open-air experiment, a park that will continue to grow and evolve. We have this living laboratory to work with.' The logistics are astounding. No fewer than four million plants, trees and shrubs representing 3,000 species have been collected from 28 countries and planted over the past three years.

Amid the tawny grasslands are 1,000 animals representing 200 species. Gangling ostriches roam between cavorting herds of antelope. Zebras browse, giraffes strip leaves from towering trees and elephants seek shade beneath giant baobabs.

A family of gorillas frolics in a lush jungle. Hippos and rhinos wallow in the mud of a flooded river where crocodiles also lurk. A pride of lions dozes on red rocks and termite mounds up to six metres high dot the landscape.

A rocky trail through the spectacular scenery was deliberately 'rutted' to create an appropriately bumpy experience.

The experience is also dramatically choreographed to surprise visitors with mystery, suspense, humour and educational information about real-life threats to the animal kingdom.

At one point on the safari, a warden's radio crackles 'Poachers!' and the expedition speeds off on the trail of ivory hunters.

'A comprehensive animal conservation programme has been developed to include research, breeding and educational facilities to promote the cause of endangered species,' Judson Green, president of Walt Disney Attractions, said.

As part of the commitment to conservation, a separate zoological park is breeding more than 130 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates; a centre for marine science and conservation has been opened near the resort; and a 3,440- hectare wilderness preserve has been established an hour's drive away.

Next year the park is also expanding to include a special section devoted to Asia's flora and fauna.