Get a life: A safari in Orlando

Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP

I was in Orlando in January for the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC). It is always an incredibly busy event as we kick off the New Year. I am usually there for five days packed with meetings which leave me little time to enjoy what the area has to offer.

This year, I had some time on Saturday and accepted an invitation to go "on safari" with a group of various veterinary professionals at Disney's Wild Animal Kingdom. It was fun and educational in typical Disney fashion. Initially, we were outfitted with a combination safety vest/climbing harness, water, and earbuds (so we could hear our guide).

Our tour started with a walk-through of a mock-African village bustling with tourists pushing every model of baby stroller ever manufactured. We escaped the crush unscathed but for a few stubbed toes, and saw some interesting birds, a few monkeys, and some reptiles all in fairly typical zoo enclosures.

We then headed into the jungles of Orlando and soon came upon a river where the mighty hippopotamus was the most notable occupant. Our safety harnesses were clipped on to a pulley system with carabineers, allowing us to venture onto a bluff just above the river. It was incredible to watch the hippos come over for a lettuce treat, and observe the way their enormous mouths and jaws function.

After that, it was up to a series of "rope" suspension bridges that took us over an area of the river with more hippos on one side, the Nile crocodiles on the other. The bridges were made to look very rickety, including missing slats along the walkway, but as you can imagine, we were clipped to a safety cable that ran across the canyon several feet above head level. If one were to misstep, and the safety net didn't catch you, the safety harness would ensure you didn't end up getting an inside look at the hungry crocodiles below.

We got quite an education about the crocodiles, noting that Disney is a recognized facility housing male crocodiles. They mostly laid around while we were there, but the guide pointed out that distinguishing marks--a missing foot here, a scar there--were evidence of previous fights. Apparently there would be many, many more fights if there were female crocs around. I never realized how similar male crocs are to homo-sapien males.

After that, we hopped on a special truck carrying benches in the back that transported us through a savannah area teeming with giraffes, elephants, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, pink flamingos, zebras, and warthogs, to name a few. They took us to a remote outpost where we were fed a gourmet African lunch from small "messkits" as we watched the various animals lumber around the savannah. We could see large buses full of tourists traveling around. Being Disney, the buses looked rickety and had racks on the top and back, loaded with the sort of gear you might expect to see on a safari like shovels, baskets, trunks, suitcases, medical kits, and spare tires. I had lunch with two veterinarians who happened to be sisters. They were drawn into veterinary medicine by their older sister, who was the first in their family to be a veterinarian. Family dinners at their house must be a blast!

At the end of the tour, we were given the choice of where a portion of our ticket price would be donated--aid for elephants? Big cats? Rhinos? Some other species? Disney has programs that have provided a great deal of help to animals all over the world.

Needless to say, adventure comes in many forms. This made for a mellow day, and I learned a number of things from the well-trained guides. So, if you are ever in Orlando and you hear a noise outside your window, it COULD be a zebra, or an ostrich, or maybe an elephant, or a lion, or a...


Comments (2) -

Mark Fox
Mark FoxUnited States
3/30/2013 8:04:33 AM #

Sounds like a great day. Looks like to have you're were well equipped for the outing, can you tell me about the vest, camera etc.?
Thanks, Mark Fox

Mike Cavanaugh
Mike CavanaughUnited States
4/1/2013 12:09:35 PM #

The vest is provided by Disney and is a vest to carry things like water and it has a built in safety harness. If you look at the first photo, just below my shirt tail you can see the thigh straps that fit similar to a climbing harness. There was also a place for carbiners to clip in and they used those when we were close to the hippos and crocs as well as when crossing the suspension bridges. The camera is my own GoPro and I am wearing it mounted to a "Chesty" which is GoPro's chest harness. I hope that answers your questions.
Take care,
Mike C.

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