Indianapolis Zoo: Karimu Jungle Railway

Indianapolis Zoo: Karimu Jungle Railway

Project Details


Karimu Jungle Railway

Date Completed

August 2002




Concepts to update the train ride to provide a more engaging and entertaining experience for guests

In 2003, I was asked to assume leadership of the Attractions Department at the Indianapolis Zoo. One of my priorities at that time was to find a way to make improvements to the train ride, which basically gave a behind-the-scenes view of facilities buildings and backstage areas.

The initial proposal was to build up themed walls around the tracks to shut out the outside world and allow for a fully-themed experience to surround the riders. But this renovation encompassed more than just the train ride itself. The concept was to take the entire area of the zoo that contained the train, carousel, family roller coaster, simulator ride, a photo adventure booth and some food stands and convert them into an African-themed village that served as the “base camp” for a nearby wildlife preserve. The wildlife preserve was the walking path through the African Plains area of the zoo.

Check It Out: Click here to view the 2002 Karimu Jungle Railway Proposal

While this version of the ride was never approved, my plight to improve the train ride never ceased. Deemed too costly, future revisions abandoned the highly themed environments and African village backstory and instead focused on enhancing the “behind-the-scenes” story.

At the start of the ride, the train station would receive a modest update with new paint colors, an enhanced audio system, and some monitors to play video clips of various zoo operations while guests wait to board.
In a space between facilities buildings, the concept was to create the zoo’s Weather Station, where weather is monitored around the clock. A special effect of a cloud with perpetual rainfall would be built to one side.
As the train passed by the back gate, the concept was to build this up as the delivery area and tell stories of how much food and other necessary supplies come into the zoo to provide care for the animals.
Passing by the zoo’s veterinary hospital, the idea was to really tell the stories of what happens at this facility. Large signs would be erected showing images that would be accompanied by the onboard audio narration.
In this scene, we created a storyline where the train ride “used to” pass through more animal exhibits, but the bridge was washed out, so the route was modified to pass through behind-the-scenes areas of the zoo.
As the ride passed an actual gas pump, the concept was to spruce this up and add a leaky water tower in the area. Additional theming elements would be added to the existing gas pump area to complete the scene.
In an effort to add some additional fun to the ride, an existing tunnel would be converted into a train wash. Fans, mist and bubbles would provide a sensory experience as the train passes through the space.
At the bottom of a large hill behind the elephant exhibit, the concept was to setup an elephant research camp that served as the basis for us to tell stories about the zoo’s elephant research and conservation efforts.

Although this version of the ride also didn’t get fully realized, elements of the concept did make their way into the revamped ride the debuted in 2005. You can view more information about that ride in the separate portfolio entry below.

Check It Out: Click here to view the portfolio entry for the 2005 train ride update.


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