Okapi, which call forests in Africa home, and the white-cheeked gibbon, native to the forests of Asia, are just two of the many animals guests can see when they visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Forest animals will be the stars of a special celebration taking place July 27 (9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in honor of the International Year of Forests.
Given the importance of forests to people and wildlife alike, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness of sustainable management, conservation and development of all types of forests. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, during our Year of the Forest celebration, guests can discover the wonders of forests and learn more about the variety of wildlife that depend on them. In special activities, children can use clues to match animals to the types of forest they live in and use their observational skills to locate animals in a forest setting. Guests also will meet fabulous forest insects, amphibians and reptiles, and our knowledgeable animal care staff, who will share the amazing adaptations of these forest animals. Conservation projects that are linked to saving forest habitat will be featured, along with the cast who work on these projects.
My favorite forest memory? Two of our group, myself included, were trailing behind the others at the end of a long day’s hike in the Amazon rainforest. The humidity was high and hung in the air like a heavy curtain after a late afternoon downpour. As dusk approached, we quietly made our way through the tangle of vines and branches. Only the sounds of the forest insects and amphibians were audible now. A quick movement caught my eye in the trees about 10 feet away. Two big-eyed monkeys were waking to begin their nightly search for food. We stopped and stood very still as the douroucoulis, otherwise known as owl monkeys, sat quietly on a branch just watching us. The scene lasted only a few minutes and then they vanished into the darkness. This was one of nature’s magical moments! We realized that spotting owl monkeys in the Amazon at dusk is a rare sighting. Nocturnal animals are not usually seen by visitors to the forest.
Forests are important to our lives. Can you name the different forests you’ve visited? People depend on the world’s forests to regulate the water cycle, store carbon dioxide and support biological diversity. Forests provide crucial elements that maintain life and provide humans with fuel, food and shelter. They are able to influence daily weather and stabilize our climate. Our forests are nutrient reservoirs that sequester large amounts of carbon, which we know now is critical in preventing drastic climate change. Forests keep our planet healthy…they are said to be the “lungs of the earth” because of their restorative qualities of “ breathing” oxygen into our atmosphere.
Learn about forest-friendly products and what you can do to help forests. For teachers, lesson plans on forests from around the world are available if you visit the International Zoo Educators Association website at www.izea.net. Finally, for those of you looking for events around the U.S. that celebrate the Year of the Forest visit www.celebrateforests.com for more information.
Why do you go to the forest? Henry David Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and…not, when I come to die, discover that I had not lived.” Forests form the backdrop in many people’s lives. What role will it play in yours? How will you protect it?
For more information on Disney conservation efforts, visit www.disney.com/conservation.
Watch the Disney Parks Blog for information on other upcoming conservation events at Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
August – Cotton-top Tamarin Month Celebration
September 1 – International Vulture Awareness Day
October 26 – Year of the Bat Celebration