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Rafiki's Planet Watch
Not quite a land, nor an attraction, Rafiki's Planet Watch is the most purely educational part of the Animal Kingdom. It is reached by boarding the Wildlife Express Train in Africa. Here guests can meet various (small) park inhabitants up close, see some of the animal care that occurs every day, and view the animal nighttime enclosures from the train.
Rafiki's Planet Watch consists of three major areas: Habitat Habit, Conservation Station, and Affection Section.
The Wildlife Express Train is a 1.2 mile, 12 minute round trip train ride between Harambe in Africa and Rafiki's Planet Watch. Well themed as an old steam train from the African continent, the ride offers views of some of the backstage areas where the animals are cared for and kept at night.
The Wildlife Express Train is a nice rest opportunity. If you don't plan on going into Rafiki's Planet Watch, it probably is not worth the twelve minute round trip, as you mostly only see a few animal buildings along the way. Otherwise, most of your view is of the trees that keep the train from being visible from Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Some people complain about the side-facing seats (like the Walt Disney Railroad at Disneyland). The right side of the train (that is, the part your back will be against) is covered to prevent seeing the primary cast member access road between Asia and Savannah Circle, which surrounds the park.
Habitat Habit is a static display along the path from the Wildlife Express Train station to Conservation Station. It educates guests on what an animal habitat is, how their own backyards are habitats for certain species, and how they can create or improve habitats for wild animals in their communities.
Habitat Habit also highlights the cotton-top tamarin, an endangered primate from Central and South America. The Animal Kingdom is a partner in worldwide efforts to preserve and restore this species.
Conservation Station is a collection of informative and educational exhibits, movies, and live demonstrations. The most interesting parts are the live animal demonstrations in the central area and (if you arrive at the right time) veterinary procedures on the park's smaller animal inhabitants.
The entrance fašade and the walls of the lobby and main central area are a mural of countless animals (really, we've never counted them). According to Hidden Mickeys: a Field Guide to Disney's Best Kept Secrets, there are 38 Hidden Mickeys in and around Conservation Station alone. We've been able to document twelve of them without recourse to the book (see below).
Affection Section is a petting zoo located out the back door of Conservation Station. At first glance, you think that the usual animals that you would find at any county fair are here. But these are domesticated rare-breed varieties of the usual sheep, goats, and pigs. Plus there is a llama, although he is often pacing around his enclosure and therefore hard to pet. Brushes are available, and hand sanitizers/wash basins are located at the exit.
There is also a covered stage area where animal demonstrations are given, most frequently parrots and macaws. This area may technically be part of Conservation Station, but since it is outside next to the petting zoo, we include it here.
Prior to 2000, all of what is now Rafiki's Planet Watch was called Conservation Station.
The Wildlife Express Train locomotives are actually diesel-hydraulic engines with the look of turn-of-the-(20th)-century steam engines. They were built for the Animal Kingdom the year before opening, but once the Imagineers were through with them they looked to be 75 years old at least.
PIPA, the walking (or rolling), talking recycling bin, used to be stationed outside of Conservation Station. PIPA was the more environmentally friendly cousin of PUSH, the talking trash can from Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. PIPA would interact with kids, begging for hugs and plastic bottles. During the downturn of 2009, PIPA was closeted.
Rafiki's Planet Watch is an enjoyable and informative part of the park, and great for an early afternoon visit. Habitat Habit has some interesting facts and activities, and the cotton-top tamarins are a good draw. Conservation Station has something for just about everyone, although the veterinary procedures are hit-or-miss depending on need. We are told that they occur more frequently in the morning. Affection Section may contain more exotic species than you typically find, but petting them does not feel appreciably different. We recommend that you engage a cast member to learn more about the animals.
Pocahontas and Rafiki can be seen in Conservation Station at various times throughout the day. Look for them on the periphery of the main central room, near where the live animal lectures are given.
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