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Wildlife Wednesdays: Expert Nutrition Team at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Helps Animals to Stick to Their Diet

posted on January 11th, 2012 by Scott Terrell, DVM, DACVP, Animal Health Director, Disney’s Animal Programs

In last week’s Wildlife Wednesdays post, you heard from Matt Hohne that exercise plays an important role in keeping the animals in our care physically and mentally fit. Another important ingredient in the recipe is eating right — something that’s top of mind for many of us humans as we try to get the new year off to a good start.


For my first Disney Parks Blog post, I’d like to tell you a little bit about our Animal Nutrition Center. As Animal Health Director for Disney’s Animal Programs, I have the privilege of leading our Animal Nutrition Center team as well as our veterinary team.

Located backstage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Animal Nutrition Center creates specialized diets for more than 3,000 mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and The Seas with Nemo & Friends. This adds up to more than four-and-half tons of food per day, not counting the natural vegetation that is eaten by some of our animals.


The animals in our care include insect eaters (insectivores), plant eaters (herbivores), meat eaters (carnivores) and those that eat both (omnivores). As a result, the nutrition center team prepares over 1,000 different diets daily. From the tiny newly hatched chicks that need to be hand raised to elephants weighing many thousands of pounds, each animal receives a diet specially formulated by our expert team to ensure optimal nutrition. And many food items are used as enrichment, spread throughout the animals’ habitats to encourage them to explore and exhibit natural behaviors.


The fruits and vegetables used at our nutrition center are the same high-quality foods served to guests in Disney restaurants. When guests visit the nutrition center on the Backstage Safari tour, they always comment on how fresh and tasty the apples, carrots, melons, corn and other fruits and vegetables look. Some guests might be tempted to stop for a snack. Of course, when it comes to the mealworms and crickets that are part of some of our animals’ diets, our guests happily agree that the food should go to the animals as intended.

On your next visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, plan to visit the Animal Nutrition Center on the Backstage Safari tour or visit with an Animal Nutrition Center cast member at our window in Conservation Station. Here’s to good eating!

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7 Comments 2 Replies


Stefanie on January 11th, 2012 at 10:11 am

This area of work seems to be so fulfilling (both to workers and animals). How does one pursue a career in animal care at Walt Disney World? Is a veterinary degree absolutely necessary?


Scott Terrell on January 11th, 2012 at 12:40 pm

There are many careers related to animals and conservation that don’t require being a veterinarian. The following link contains info on animal/sciences/conservation-related internship opportunities at Disney:


Colleen from TX on January 11th, 2012 at 10:14 am

Wow. I can’t imagine the man hours that go into all those specialized diets. I have trouble just getting meals together for five.

My kids were able to put together enrichment items for the local zoo animals. Do you have a program like that at Animal Kingdom?


Scott Terrell on January 11th, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Some Magical Moments at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge enable guests to help with the animals’ enrichment.


Kevin on January 11th, 2012 at 10:33 am

This is one of the great things about Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I like how you can go to Conservation Station and see this sort of prep work being done.


Otto on January 11th, 2012 at 11:19 am

I want to give you guys a huge compliment. The first time I visted the park I had tears in my eyes. This park is so beautifull and such a huge tribute to all living things. It is all done so respectfull.
Once my family and I where one of the first to enter the park and we went straight to the Africa trek. We met one of the Disney people who inspected the gorilla exibit and saw us in awe and took the time to explain the two sides. It made our day. Thanks!


Bradley from TX on January 11th, 2012 at 2:47 pm

What is the bird pictured on this article?


Skip from FL on January 12th, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Welcome to the blog Mr. Scott!


Jean from ME on January 19th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I love watching the animal care specialists making up the bins of food for the different types of animal. I highly recommend taking the time to speak with them, they are full of information (like who’s overweight at the moment or who’s a picky eater). This and being able to watch the talented Vets, vet assistants and keepers treat the animals we enjoy is what makes DAK so special. I am always rivited watching the skilled treatment and the loving care of these talented professionals.