" Elephant "

Caring for Giants

Yesterday, Walt Disney World debuted a new behind-the-scenes tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom called Caring for Giants. An hour long, Caring for Giants is centered around elephants.  You learn not only how Disney cares for them, but researches them and uses that research to benefit elephant populations around the world. At $30 per person, this tour is well priced for what you get.  Disney says it is for kids all the way up to grown adults, but there is a minimum age restriction of 4 years old. The tour does take place in some backstage areas of Animal Kingdom, so that is something you’ll want to keep in mind if you have little ones and don’t want to shatter the magic of Disney for them.

All that been said, if you or someone you know loves elephants, this is a tour for you. Disney has ten elephants on property, three males and seven females. If your guide says that Animal Kingdom has 3.7 elephants, and then asks what that means, you can confidently reply that it’s a ratio, and it tells how many males and females they have. That’s the last bit of trivia I’ll give out; I do want you to learn new things on this tour, after all! Another unique element of this tour is that you are allowed to bring a camera with you and use it on the tour in a designated area. No backstage pictures are allowed.

There are tons of these tours a day, and they seem to leave every half hour. That being said, you will need to contact Walt Disney World Reservations to go on this tour.  You meet your tour guide by the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris, in what I believe used to be a camera supplies kiosk. Once checked in, you’ll get a lanyard with your name on it; be sure to turn it over because there’s a surprise on the back! From there, you’ll be lead backstage to your Adventure Vehicle, which is themed! This should show you just how committed to an incredible experience Disney wants to give you on this tour. They didn’t have to theme your transport van, but they did and it looks awesome! On your walk to the vehicle, be sure to look to your left and catch an awesome view of the mountains of Pandora.

Along the ride, your guide will point out various aspects of backstage Animal Kingdom as you take their “ring road” to your destination. That road goes around the savannas of Kilimanjaro Safari, and so you will see various night homes for the four-legged friends you’ll see on that attraction. See if you can figure out which holds the giraffes!

Soon you will arrive at the elephant house, where you may see your first glimpse of an elephant up close. As we passed by, baby elephant Stella’s father was hanging out. Then, a short drive down a gravel road and we were at the elephant berm, an elevated platform at the back of the elephant pastures. The views of the elephants were spectacular. You are much closer to the gentle giants than you are on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Disney says you are 80 to 100 feet away, but it feels closer. The animal expert you meet there is full of knowledge, and our’s said to keep our eyes on the elephants and that she would not be offended if she talked to our backs. We were allowed to touch elephant tail-hair, told how to tell the various elephants apart, and also given an update on two-month-old Stella’s growth and new social habits.

Halfway through our approximately 40 minutes on the berm, we spoke with an African cultural representative who told us about Africa and the elephants that live there. We learned why they are called the keystone of the savanna, and the pivotable role they play in keeping African ecology going. We learned how research helped discover a natural solution to keep farmers’ fields safe from elephants coming for an easy meal, and also provide them with a bit of extra income. We were told of a man who takes snare wires meant to capture elephants for their tucks and turns them into art of the animals they’re meant to ensnare. And then all too soon, we were asked to board our Adventure Vehicle and headed back to Animal Kingdom proper.

This tour is one of my favorites on Disney property, ranking up with Behind the Seeds. At $30 per person, I feel like it is a tour everybody should do. Seeing elephants so closely, learning about them, was a truly unique experience. As a photographer, I was able to take incredible pictures. My girlfriend, the elephant fanatic, was able to be closer to the largest animal in the world than she ever thought possible. I just wish we had more time on the berm; I could have stayed there all day!