This year, instead of giving gifts for the holidays, why not treat your friend and families to a special once in a lifetime experience by giving them a chance to experience the Caring For Giants Tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort.
This unique up close and personal look at either the African Elephants or the White Rhinos, just some of the many creatures that call Disney’s Animal Kingdom home, will give you a chance to go behind the scenes to give you an insider’s view to the daily life of these magnificent creatures, but have a chance to hear from the animal specialist themselves as to what it’s like to be able to work with these animals on a daily basis.
But the best part is that not only will you be giving your family and friends something special that will last long after your tour has come to a close, but you’ll be contributing to the Disney Conservation Fund, which helps to save endangered species from extinction.
I had the chance to go on this special one hour tour during my last visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and it did not disappoint. Although reservations are highly encouraged and recommended, I was lucky enough to book my tour on the spot.
The tour begins in Africa next to Kilimanjaro Safari at Curiosity Animal Tours where you are greeted and checked in by their knowledgeable animal specialist who will lead you on this one-hour excursion.
Once the group is all checked in, we headed off to the backstage area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom where our private bus awaited us to transport us to our viewing spot and fill us in on not only some of the history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom but as to the various animals that call this place home.
Once we reached our destination out on the savannah, we were escorted up a path for our 60-minute experience, where our dedicated animal specialists who provide for the care and wellness of the African elephant herd gave us a glimpse into their day-to-day responsibilities as they provide fascinating facts about the elephants. Here we learned everything from how much food elephants eat during any given day, to the care and handling of each of the African Elephants to even what happens during the hurricanes that have been known to happen and how they ensure the safety of the animals in their care.
One of the highlights was meeting with an African cultural representative who was on hand to share stories of Disney’s conservation efforts dedicated to the preservation of wild populations throughout their homeland as well as share with us all the different ways that elephant dung can be reused. From being used to polish floors, to being used as a fuel source, it was fascinating to hear first hand of the wide variety of ways that the people of Africa make use of these valuable by-products from the elephants themselves.
Throughout this experience, we were able to observe the elephants from approximately 80 to 100 feet away—thus allowing us a view that was a close encounter with the elephants than we would during other in-park experiences, including the Wild Africa Trek. Elephants are intelligent, social and complex animals—and meeting all of their care requirements is a jumbo task!
The African elephant habitats are designed to enrich the animals’ lives and encourage them to display natural behaviors such as social interaction, foraging, and play. Spread out over 7 expansive acres, the habitats include mud wallows, rocks to rub against, a variety of natural plants and trees for foraging and exploration and 3 pools—deep enough for several elephants to swim in at once! Floating melons or coconuts are placed in the pool and special veggie treats are hidden on the grounds to encourage the elephants to work to retrieve them, keeping them busy, active and mentally stimulated.
To feed the African elephants, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park grows its own willow and banana plants, as well as a special elephant grass that our 8 elephants consume at a rate of 1000 pounds a day!
Grass hays like Bermuda and Timothy make up a large part of the elephants’ diet, along with “browse” when it’s available (leaves, twigs and young shoots)—plus a specially formulated herbivore cube for added nutrition. Carrots, sweet potatoes and apples are used daily as training rewards.
Veterinary Care and Animal Training
The animal care experts at Disney use positive training to teach these intelligent animals to participate in their own health care. Each elephant voluntarily starts its day with a bath, which ensures great skin care and gives the animal care experts a chance to conduct a full-body inspection. The elephants follow a sound cue to move from their exhibit spaces back to their night housing, allowing the animal care experts to maintain the exhibits while the elephants are safely secured.
Fancy Foot Work
The elephants’ feet are inspected daily for cracks or splits—after all, there’s a lot riding on those feet! When asked, the elephants lift their feet onto a stand, maintaining a safe barrier between the animal care expert and the animal during these jumbo pedicures. The combination of large habitats and plenty of exercise plus excellent nutrition and meticulous foot care means that our elephants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park rarely have foot problems!
The elephants of Disney’s Animal Kingdom are perennial favorites and can be seen while on the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park as well as on the Wild Africa Trek and of course on the Caring For Giants Tour. Did you know that African elephants can be found in over 37 countries of sub-Saharan Africa? They are able to live in a variety of habitats, from dense forests to wet marshes to open and closed savannas—even arid deserts. We learned that one of the ways to identify the African Elephant from the Indian Elephant was to look at the shape of the ears. The ears of the African Elephant have a similar shape of the African continent itself. Sadly the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists the elephant species as “vulnerable.” But a growing demand for ivory has caused elephants to be slaughtered at unprecedented levels—over 35,000 elephants were killed by poachers in 2013 alone.
Not only are Elephants among the world’s most intelligent and sensitive animals, they also possess extraordinary empathy and self-awareness which is not surprising when your discover that they have the largest brain of any terrestrial animal!
Mother Knows Best
Elephants live in close-knit family groups of 2 to 40 related females and their calves. The herd is led by a matriarch, usually the oldest female, who has the experience—and memory—to lead them to watering holes and feeding grounds she may not have seen in decades!
Elephants Never Forget
Other than people, elephants are one of the only animals known to mourn the passing of another member of their species. Elephants encountering a dead elephant have been observed lingering for hours to smell a fallen friend, often lifting the bones and carrying them around.
Big Families, No Bull
An adult male (bull) elephant can weigh up to 14,000 pounds (6,350 kg) and stand 11 feet tall (3.4 m), while an adult female (cow) stands 8 feet tall (2.4 m) and weighs 7,700 pounds (3,493 kg). Male African elephants never stop growing, and can reach 7½ tons! Elephants typically live into their late 30’s, but can live to 50 or more!
Elephant trunks are amazing!—a combination of upper lip and nose that is used for breathing, smelling, drinking, feeding, dust bathing, greeting and caressing. Thirsty elephants use their trunks to draw up gallons of water to spray into their mouths. African elephant trunks have 2 finger-like extensions at the end that they use to pick leaves, pull bark off trees or pick up objects as small as a coin! Both gentle and strong, an elephant trunk is capable of killing a lion—or caressing a frightened calf.
Both male and female African elephants have an impressive pair of tusks, extra-long incisor teeth that grow continuously throughout their lifetime. Elephants use their tusks to dig for water or food, knock over trees and defend against predators. For chewing, they have 4 molars—on the top and bottom of each side of their mouth—that can weigh 11 pounds and measure 12 inches long!
The large ears of African elephants are shaped like the continent of Africa! But here’s an even stranger fact—elephants can lower their body temperature by 10 degrees simply by flapping their ears! Blood vessels on the back of their ears are cooled by the flapping, sending cooler blood through the rest of the body—a personal cooling system!
Disney Conservation: Saving African Elephants
African elephants face 3 major threats—habitat loss, poaching, and human-elephant conflicts.
Big Appetites, Shrinking Resources
The amount of food a wild elephant must consume requires a great deal of space, which is a diminishing resource on our overdeveloped planet. Meanwhile, free-roaming elephants are seen as dangerous as they kill people and destroy crops, often a family’s only source of income. A herd of elephants can destroy a month’s worth of income in one raid—which in turn can lead to the killing of a wild elephant.
Despite an international ban on ivory in 1989, elephants continue to be illegally hunted (poached) for their tusks, which are used to produce ivory artifacts and jewelry for the global black market. It is estimated that 96 African elephants are killed every day by criminals and crime syndicates.
Disney Is Helping Elephants in the Wild
The African elephant is currently listed as a vulnerable species, due in large part to poaching driven by the illegal ivory trade. Human-elephant conflict, where elephants are killed in retaliation for damaged crops, homes and even loss of human life, is another contributing factor. The Disney Conservation Fund is helping to reverse this unfortunate elephant decline by supporting nonprofit organizations whose work addresses poaching and human-elephant conflict, protects elephant habitat and trains local conservationists. Scientists and educators from Disney’s Animal Kingdom park also play a key role, often collaborating with conservation organizations to creatively address the challenges facing elephants in the wild.
Living in Harmony with Elephants
In Kenya, scientists from Disney’s Animal Kingdom park collaborated with the Disney Conservation Fund to help the nonprofit organization Save the Elephants find a solution to human-elephant conflicts caused by crop-raiding elephants. Their combined research confirmed that elephants are afraid of African honeybees, so Disney and Save the Elephants worked together to build beehive fences to protect local farms. These low-cost, eco-friendly fences are effective in protecting both crops and elephants. As an added bonus, the beehives also provide a new source of income for impoverished communities—“elephant friendly” honey!
Elephant Alarm Collars
Disney’s collaboration with Save the Elephants also helped develop high-tech alarm collars that use GPS and motion-sensor technology to track elephants—first at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park and now in Africa. This “wearable technology” will support anti-poaching efforts in Kenya, providing an early-warning system for ground forces defending the animals. The collars can also be used to locate a wild elephant in distress and to provide long-term data on elephant behaviors that will help scientists plan for the species’ long-term survival.
You Can Help African Elephants, Too!
What can one person or family do to protect African elephants and their habitats—more than you think!
Never Buy Ivory
Approximately 96 African elephants are killed every day for their ivory tusks—and Americans are among the consumers of this cruel luxury. By pledging not to buy ivory jewelry or other ivory products, you can be an example to the world and help protect elephants for generations to come.
Buy Elephant Paper!
What goes in must come out. An adult bull elephant can produce 300 pounds of dung in a day! For conservationists, that’s not a problem—it’s a solution! Elephant lovers are turning jumbo poop into recycled paper! In fact, our name tags for our tour was created from this specially recycled elephant poop paper. You can help elephants—and the people who live near them—by buying wildlife-friendly elephant paper!
Elephants, Disney, and You
The Walt Disney Company is committed to the future of our planet and the preservation of its infinitely rich variety of people, places, plants, and wildlife. The Disney Conservation Fund was created as part of this commitment to ensuring a world where wildlife thrives and nature is treasured and protected by: Saving wildlife. Inspiring action. Protecting the planet. For more than 60 years, animals have been a part of Disney storytelling, and these stories continue today alongside immersive experiences that connect kids and families around the world with the magic of nature. Since 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund has directed more than $70 million to save wildlife and protect the planet and inspired millions of people to take action for nature in their communities. When you take the Caring For Giants Tour or the Wild Africa Trek Tour, you are directly contributing to helping make this vision a reality.
Know Before You Go
Before you head out on this once in a lifetime experience, make sure that you review the information, including Guest restrictions, recommended attire, and cancellation policies.
- You will be approximately 80 to 100 feet away from the elephants during this experience.
- Please keep in mind that this is an outdoor experience. Be sure to check the weather forecast and dress appropriately, including wearing comfortable shoes.
- No cameras, video equipment or cell phones may be used while backstage. However, photography is allowed and encouraged in non-backstage areas.
- Guests under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a participating adult (18 years of age or older).
- Guests must be 4 years of age or older to participate.
- Please check in 15 minutes prior to start of experience at the Curiosity Animal Tours kiosk, located across from the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction entrance. Late arrivals may not be able to join the experience.
- Itinerary, content, duration and availability are subject to change without notice.
- You will forfeit the entire price of this experience if you no-show or cancel within 2 days of your reservation.
- For information about service animal policies for this experience, please call the Guest Animal Experience team directly at (407) 938-1487.
- Non-transferrable wheelchair guests may remain in their wheelchair throughout this experience; however, due to limited capacity onboard the backstage transport vehicle, all accommodation requests should be confirmed by calling (407) 938-1487.
- Guests using an ECV must leave their mobility device onstage where they will retrieve them upon the conclusion of the experience. Guests must walk by themselves, or be assisted by a member(s) of their party in a courtesy wheelchair to participate in this experience.
- This experience visits outdoor areas containing common allergens such as dust and hay, as well as biting/stinging insects.
This holiday season, give the gift that will create a lifetime of memories and will also contribute to endangered animals all over the world and book the Caring For Giants Tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort.
“Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people, it’s a matter that concerns all of us…If we will use our riches wisely, if we will protect our wildlife, and preserve our lakes and streams, these things will last us for generations to come.” – Walt Disney