In my last submission, we explored and walked the Maharajah Jungle Trek located in Asia here at Animal Kingdom. Today we’ll trek along its sibling trail, Africa’s Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This wonderful natural trail, like the Maharajah Trek is again overlooked or skipped by many guests, which is a shame, because it offers so much more than meets the eye. This trail is a spectacular photo opportunity because you take as much or as little time to walk and observe; no rush to get through!
As with the Maharajah Jungle Trek, there is an interesting story behind the Trail. First, Pangani in Swahili translates as “place of enchantment.” Easy to find, it’s between the Kilimanjaro Safari and Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Africa. The reserve is administered by Dr. Kulunda and he is assisted by the people of the village of Harambe, who along with students from around the world, maintain this pristine trail for the preservation of the animals and for man to live in harmony with each other. You will find along the trail Dr. Kulunda’s research center and Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre, which cares and rehabilitates endangered African animal species.
The first stop is a huge termite mound. These mounds are constructed by the insects with their saliva and mud, and are cement hard. The structure is shorn away, giving guests a look into their world. Termite mounds found in Africa can rise to heights of over thirty feet. In comparison, man would have to erect a building 2,743 feet high. In fact, the secretions used by the termites are so hard; the chemicals are used to build roads and are more durable than asphalt. There is an informative sign which explains the structure and its parts.
Your next stop is the Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Center. Here you can observe the beautiful Angolan Blank & White Colobus Monkey. These black and white furry monkeys are Old World monkeys of the genus Colobus, native to Africa. The word “colobus” comes from Greek (“maimed”), and is so named because its thumb is a stump. Colobuses are herbivorous, eating leaves; fruit, flowers, and twigs. Colobuses live in territorial groups of approximately nine individuals, based upon a single male with a number of females and their offspring. Newborn Colobuses are completely white. These animals are presently being cared for here at the center.
Our next stop is an observation area known as a “Blind”. This is an area to observe the animals in their natural habit without being observed, so the rule of thumb here is “Quiet”! We do not want to disturb or frighten the animals. From this blind you can observe the Yellow-backed Duiker and the Okapi. The yellow-backed duiker comes from the Afrikaans word for “diver” which describes the way the creature dives into the underbrush for cover. Yellow-backed duikers are predominantly browsers feeding on leaves, berries, fruit, seeds, fungi, and grasses.
On occasion they may eat also animal protein, such as insects, lizards, birds and rodents. The Okapi, although it looks like a Zebra, is actually related to the giraffe. The Okapi inhabits the regions of north, central and eastern Congo. Its diet includes tree leaves and buds, grass, ferns, fruit, and fungi. It is considered one of the most beautiful animals in the reserve. Don’t forget to check out the skull of both animals, very informative.
Our next stop is the research center. Here you will see several exhibits of animals being studied by Dr. Kulunda and his students. You will see Naked Mole rats, Pancake Tortoise’s and spiny mice to name a few. The most interesting display is the caverns of the Naked Mole rat. With its glass viewing panels, you can see these creatures in their tunnels. These animals are not related to a mole or a rat, and are also known as the sand puppy or desert mole rat. They are a burrowing rodent native to parts of East Africa. They live in groups averaging 75 to 80 individuals in complex systems of burrows in arid African deserts. The tunnel systems built by naked mole rats can stretch up to two or three miles in length.
And like the Maharajah Trek, an aviary is next on the list, along with beautiful colored fish in nearby streams. In this aviary you can observe Green Wood Hoopoes, Purple Glossy Starlings, Pygmy Geese and many more. Make sure you get your bird-watching guide to help you spot them. This is a place to take you time, because the birds are all around and if you are patient, you can get some breathtaking pictures. Along the walkway you will also observe a large glass “Aquarium” where the fish swim right up to the glass.
You now come to the Hippopotamus’ area. The name comes from the ancient Greek for “river horse. Like the fish aquarium, they are behind large glass viewing ports. The hippopotamus is semi-aquatic, inhabiting rivers, lakes and West African mangrove swamps. Their closest living relatives are cetaceans (whales, porpoises, etc.) from which they deviated about 55 million years ago.
You next encounter a large round hut which is the viewing area for the Meerkat and Gerenuk. The Meerkat or suricate is a member of the Mongoose family. A group of Meerkats is called a “mob”, “gang” or “clan”. A clan often contains about 20 Meerkats. They are primarily insectivores, but also eat lizards, snakes, scorpions, spiders, plants, eggs, small mammals, and, more rarely, small birds. And yes, Timon is a Meerkat! The Gerenuk is also known as the Waller’s Gazelle, is a long-necked species of antelope found in dry bushy scrub in East Africa. The word Gerenuk comes from the Somali language, meaning “giraffe-necked” Gerenuk are sometimes also called the Giraffe-necked Antelope. Again, compare the skulls of both animals.
Our last stop is the “Anchor” animal of the tour; the Lowland Gorilla. Although they are endangered, they are far more common then their relatives, the mountain gorillas. Since they live in the heavy rain forests, is difficult for scientists to accurately estimate how many are surviving in the wilderness. They are the largest of the primate species and although they can climb trees, they normally stay on the ground in groups known as “Troops”. The Gorilla belongs to a highly structured social society and the troop is led by a dominant male called a Silverback because of the silver hair ornamenting his coat. This leader organizes eating and nesting in leaves and is in charge of their average 16 square mile ranging area.
It is very important not to make sudden movements, such as jumping and waving your hands at these creatures. They take it as an aggressive movement and you will scare them away. The same goes for loud noises. Look at the large chalk-board drawing of the Gorilla by Dr. Kulunda and his assistants and see the different skull and footprint samples in the camp area.
There is always something for the kid’s involvement. If you check your park maps you will notice a yellow “K” in a red box, which identifies a Kids Discovery Club location. Cast Members at these locations help the kids learn more about the animals they have just seen with puzzles and different clues to figure out. When the kids complete their fun tasks, they receive a Kids’ Discovery Club Membership Card.
Both the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Pangani Forest Trail offer guests a relaxing and unhurried way to observe animals in their natural habitats and there is plenty of time for amazing photos. It’s fun for all ages and is wheelchair accessible. Stop by and take a leisurely stroll through these wonderful trails, they provide their own special “Thrill Ride.”
Contributed by: Bill I. (NDH #35). Bill is our resident historian.