Lunch with an Animal Specialist at Sanaa (2nd time around)

We were very pleased to go back to Sanaa for the Lunch with an Animal Specialist Thanksgiving Weekend. This was the first time that our friends Kris & Kevin had eaten at Sanaa – but interestingly, it wasn’t the first time that the four of us teamed up to do something special at Animal Kingdom (I’m stretching because this event is at Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village and the four of us did the Wild Africa Trek together a few years ago*). We thought they’d enjoy Sanaa and the experience (they love going to South Africa). Nick and I had done this particular lunch earlier in 2013, we enjoyed it so much that I think it may become a pseudo-standard thing to do with friends.

Let’s start with the Cast Members…

Boysen was our server, he comes to Animal Kingdom Lodge from Botswana. He explained that Sanaa serves Indian/African food. In fact, Durban has the largest population of Indians outside of India itself. He also pointed out that the highest concentration of South African wines outside of South Africa are found at Jiko and Sanaa.

David was our chef again (well, he is the head chef at Sanaa). The foods at Sanaa follow the Spice Route and are cooked in traditional manners (all fresh, cooked each day). There have been some menu changes since we attended the luncheon in February… this time we would be enjoying a Doan Curry with bird’s eye chile (instead of the Green Curry Shrimp) and dessert would include a Tanzanian Chocolate Mousse and Coconut Cheesecake (instead of Chocolate Cake and Tropical Fruit Kofi).

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Chef David… Kris is listening with rapt attention

Kim was our Animal Specialist!

Kim, our animal specialist - she's been a zookeeper for 20 years

Kim, our animal specialist – she’s been a zookeeper for 20 years

Kim is originally from Upstate New York, she came to Florida to go to school and to work (why move back where it’s cold and windy and dreary?). Her favorite animals are snakes and big cats – she’s worked with everything from bears, great apes, and elephants – she moved to Animal Kingdom Lodge because the hoof stock are a new challenge for her (she’s been here about 20 months) – she loves their behavior, so different from predator behavior.

One of the things that she loves doing is training the okapi – now you have to understand that the training that the care-givers do with animals at Walt Disney World is not focused on cute tricks or things like that… it’s focused on encouraging and reinforcing behaviors that make it easier to care for the animals and keep them safe and healthy.

Details about the animals under her care…

  • Okapi babies have to hide from their mothers, otherwise mom gets aggressive with baby. The accepted theory is that the babies must hide for safety and mom is hard wired to ensure that happens.
  • There was a new zebra baby (girl) born two nights before our visit (that would have been Thanksgiving) and two more zebra mares are expecting. She said that 2013 had been “maternity ward” time!
Kim's presentation was different from Yuralia's approach (very nice to do the same thing and get a different experience)

Kim’s presentation was different from Yuralia’s approach (very nice to do the same thing and get a different experience)

After she introduced herself, Kim really encouraged questions. It was a bit different for Nick and me – when we did this before, there were four adults and the Cast Member – this time it was a much larger group (and Nick insisted that they add another table, they had us really crammed in there to start with, too close to eat without elbowing the devil out of each other) AND there were three children (OMG we were worried, but they were all very well behaved during the meal etc TG).

So what is a regular day at work like for Kim? (and the other 25 full time keepers at AKL?)

  • Animals are brought back to the barns at about 5:30 a.m. using sound cues (they aren’t all cued at the same time, they stagger the animals returning to the barn).The animals are trained to go to their own particular space. Their food is weighed before and after the feeding so that the care givers can have an accurate record of how much they’re eating (very important, changes in diet and eating are usually indicative of illness or not feeling well and the expectant mothers need their nutrients!)
  • While the animals are in the barns getting fed and getting checked over, the savannahs get cleaned (yes, that means cleaning up poop)
  • About 7:30 a.m., the animals go back out on the savannahs for the day.
  • During the day, there’s husbandry training with the okapi.
    • One of the male okapi has a lot of allergies, Kim actually worked with him when he was in Miami (she worked at a zoo in Miami before coming to WDW). He scratches A LOT. So he gets special cleanings and topical medications… but the vet has decided that he needs allergy shots. SO, he having to be trained to stay calm (reducing his stress) while he gets his allergy shots. (I got allergy shots for YEARS and when I was getting them, no big deal… now that I don’t get shots on a regular basis, needles are a big deal!)

Working at Animal Kingdom Lodge is great! It’s a zoo but it’s very different from a traditional zoo.

After lunch, we went outside to see the tortoise…

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If you see a tortoise or turtle crossing the road, please take him to the side he was headed to (not the side he came from)! They’re very stubborn and will keep trying to get where they wanted to go!

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Another excellent lunch with an animal specialist – they are really into educating and listening

Now, on to the food!

Once again, the full on bread service was how we started the meal – if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that we love the bread service and the dips/toppings. My particular favorites are the jalapeno-lime pickle and the garlic pickle. Nick likes them all 🙂

Top to bottom, Left to right:

NINE dips – oh how yummy (this photo is from our February Dining Experience)

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Our trio of salads

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tomato, paneer cheese, onions – this was my favorite

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chickpea salad – sometimes the chickpeas are under cooked, these were just right firm and tasty

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watermelon and cucumber salad – nice, but not as flavorful as the tomato salad

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entree course, two curries and basmati rice with coriander seeds

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Doan curry with fish – good, but I preferred the green curry with shrimp

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this rice is very good, I want some RIGHT NOW! the coriander seeds add a nice pop of flavor as they get crunched in your teeth

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butter chicken – while this is very good, I can’t really RAVE about it like some on the internet (especially when I found out how much butter and cream are in it)

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trio of desserts (with a chocolate spoon for the chai cream)

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Tanzanian chocolate mousse – I really liked this, it was dark and rich and creamy; I can see how some might not like it because it was a really DARK chocolate dessert

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chai cream – now this is very good (always) but I felt like the spiciness was a bit lacking on this particular day

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coconut cheesecake – good, a bit grainy (which I like in cheesecake), but not anything OMG DELICIOUS


We would definitely do this again, in fact, we’re already thinking about doing it this spring when Dear Niece J visits

If you’re interested in our Wild Africa Trek with Kris and Kevin, here you are

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