Walt Disney once said, “It all started with a mouse.” That mouse, Mickey, of course, is famous all over the world and is a focus of attention at Disney theme parks. Another kind of rodent, however, also is getting a lot of well-deserved attention at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. That rodent is the highly endangered Key Largo woodrat.
Since 2005, the Animal Programs team has been assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a recovery plan for the Key Largo woodrat, including the development of a woodrat breeding program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.
Breeding rats—you might think that would be easy! Not with the Key Largo woodrat. These animals have only about two litters each year of one to three pups. To make matters even more complicated, when our breeding program started very little was known about the conditions that encourage the woodrats to reproduce. I am very proud to say that diligent research and care by Disney’s Animal Programs scientists and animal husbandry team members has resulted in the birth of nearly 30 woodrat pups. The goal is to eventually reintroduce woodrats born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Key Largo to help increase the wild population.
Just last month, Disney’s Animal Programs won the very prestigious Edward H. Bean Significant Achievement Award–which recognizes programs that contribute to the reproductive success of a species–from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for our successful Key Largo woodrat breeding program.
One of the threats to Key Largo woodrats in the wild, in addition to habitat loss, is non-native species, such as the Burmese python, which eat the woodrats. That’s why it is so important for people to choose pets wisely and never release unwanted pets, like these pythons, into the wild.
Guests visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park can learn more about Key Largo woodrats by visiting the Wildlife Tracking Center in Conservation Station. For more information on Disney conservation efforts, visit www.disney.com/conservation.