Halloween at Walt Disney World Resort

Wildlife Wednesdays: Sea Turtles Get Huge Send-off from Disney’s Vero Beach Resort Guests

posted on August 3rd, 2011 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


Guests at Disney's Vero Beach Resort Watch Loggerhead Sea Turtles Return to Sea

Last Saturday morning, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort guests experienced the wonders of nature and science when two loggerhead sea turtles named for Disney characters – who had laid their eggs on the beach the night before – returned to the sea. The turtles were fitted with satellite transmitters and released near the resort as part of the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s annual “Tour de Turtles” event.

Lightning McQueen is sponsored by Disney’s Animal Programs and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and Rapunzel is sponsored by the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF). Of the more than $15 million that the DWCF has distributed since the fund’s inception, almost $1 million has helped support sea turtle conservation around the world.

Guests at Disney's Vero Beach Resort Watch Loggerhead Sea Turtles Return to Sea

A program created by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, “Tour de Turtles,” follows the marathon migration of 15 sea turtles representing four different species from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. The goal of “Tour de Turtles” is to inspire people to care about sea turtle conservation.

Each turtle acts as an ambassador to raise awareness about a specific threat to sea turtles. Lightning McQueen is raising awareness about the threat of light pollution on the beach. Since sea turtle hatchlings rely on moonlight to find their way to the ocean, many become disoriented and drawn off-course by artificial light sources. Rapunzel is raising awareness about the threat of entanglement. Turtles can become tangled in trash and nets and drown.

Watch the video to see the huge send-off by more than 250 Guests.

Researchers from Disney’s Animal Programs and the Sea Turtle Conservancy will track the sea turtles using satellite telemetry as they travel from their nesting beach to various feeding grounds. Using this technology, scientists learn about sea turtles’ habits at sea and the different migratory patterns of each species. This knowledge helps researchers, conservationists and governing agencies make more informed decisions about sea turtle conservation actions and policies. Guests can find out about this research and follow the tracks of the turtles when they visit the Wildlife Tracking Center in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. People worldwide can view the sea turtles’ progress online at www.tourdeturtles.org.

Each year, approximately 50,000 female sea turtles come to lay their eggs in Florida, making our beaches one of the most important nesting areas in the world. Sea turtles are among the oldest creatures on earth and have remained essentially unchanged for 110 million years. In the United States, as much as 90 percent of sea turtle nesting occurs in Florida, which serves as a primary nesting site for several species of endangered and threatened sea turtles.

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Wildlife Wednesdays: Do the Cotton-Top Tamarin Dance at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on July 27th, 2011 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


Wildlife Wednesdays: Do the Cotton-Top Tamarin Dance at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

August 15 is a national holiday in Colombia, South America–it’s the Day of the Cotton-Top Tamarin. Here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we’re celebrating these cute one-pound monkeys on that day and throughout the month of August with a variety of activities at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Special activities for all ages will highlight cotton-top tamarin biology and behavior, the fascinating tools and methods used by scientists to study the cotton-top in the field, and the incredible conservation efforts of Proyecto Titi, an organization dedicated to saving this critically endangered species that is supported by the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

Wildlife Wednesdays: Do the Cotton-Top Tamarin Dance at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

During the celebration, guests can find out what cotton-top tamarins like to snack on, how scientists locate them in the forest, and even how to do the cotton-top tamarin dance! The celebration will kick into high gear the week of August 7-15 with even more special activities, including creative cotton-top designs by face painters and caricature artists. And scientists, veterinarians, and animal keepers will share their expertise on cotton-top tamarins and their passion for the conservation of this very special species. Watch the video to see cotton-tops in their native Colombia and learn about efforts to protect them.

During August and year-round, guests are getting to know and care about cotton-tops and their habitat at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Guests can see these endangered monkeys at Habitat Habit! In Rafiki’s Planet Watch and near the Tree of Life.

Watch the Disney Parks Blog for information on other upcoming conservation events at Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

September 1 – International Vulture Awareness Day
October 26 – Year of the Bat Celebration

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Wildlife Wednesdays: Dr. Jane Goodall Visits Endangered Woodrats Born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Key Largo Refuge

posted on March 30th, 2011 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


Last month, we were very proud to welcome internationally renowned conservationist, Dr. Jane Goodall, to the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the Florida Keys, where endangered Key Largo woodrats born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom are being reintroduced to their native habitat. Key Largo woodrats are one of the species featured on Dr. Jane’s Hope for Animals and Their World website, which shares inspirational stories about endangered species protection.

Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager Steve Klett and Dr. Jane Goodall

While at the refuge, Dr. Jane met with volunteers Clay and Ralph DeGayner, who are featured on her website, Refuge Manager Steve Klett (in the photo with Dr. Jane), and Christy Alligood, Ph.D., Disney’s Animal Programs research specialist.

Scientists estimate that the Key Largo woodrat population has dwindled to fewer than 500 animals after years of habitat loss, drought and predation by non-native animal species, such as Burmese pythons and feral cats. Although small in size, these little woodrats play a vital role in the circle of life in their forest home. They are an important source of food for other native animals such as owls and hawks, and they build and maintain nests that are often used by other endangered species as well.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom and one of our collaborators, the Lowry Park Zoo, have bred Key Largo woodrats as part of a recovery plan to augment the existing population found only in Key Largo. Breeding this elusive species was a challenge since scientists had very little information about social structure, reproductive biology or ecology. Through diligent research, Disney’s animal experts studied the behavior of this nocturnal animal and found ways to successfully breed 41 adorable pups! Since 2006, 25 litters have been born in Disney’s colony with litter sizes ranging from one to three pups. In 2009, the program received the Bean Award for Significant Achievement in Captive Breeding from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

In the past year, 26 woodrats born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Lowry Park Zoo have been reintroduced to their native habitat in Key Largo, where scientists track their movements using special radio transmitter collars.

Key Largo Woodrat

Before the woodrats are released in the forest, they are exposed to native plants and acclimated to their new homes inside enclosed nest structures. We’ve been happy to see that the released woodrats have the same survival skills as wild woodrats – storing food, moving between multiple nests and adding sticks to their homes. Two of the females have even conceived and given birth in the wild! Unfortunately, the released woodrats also experience the same challenges as wild woodrats, including predation. We join with other conservation organizations in supporting plans for humane removal of non-native species from endangered species habitat.

The Disney’s Animal Programs team is collaborating on the Key Largo woodrat conservation program with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Dagny Johnson State Park, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of St. Andrews, Lowry Park Zoo and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Guests can learn more about Disney conservation efforts when they visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and by visiting www.disney.com/conservation.

Key Largo Woodrats Fun Facts:

  • Key Largo woodrats share little in common with the average city rat.
  • The rodents make their homes in forested areas, eating leaves and fruit.
  • Average gestation period is 38 days.
  • In the wild, males and females live separately and only come together for breeding.



Take a look at more of our conservation efforts at Disney Parks:

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Wildlife Wednesdays: Cast Members’ Eye View of Birds at Walt Disney World Resort

posted on February 2nd, 2011 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


Not only do we have magical theme parks and resorts at the Walt Disney World Resort, we also have beautiful natural areas. Walt Disney ensured that when he set aside nearly one-third of the resort property in Florida as a dedicated wildlife conservation area.

Guests Participate in the First Annual Holiday Bird Count at Walt Disney World Resort

This January, I had the opportunity to join other Disney Cast Members and their families and friends as we marked a new conservation milestone – participating in the first of a planned annual holiday bird count at the Walt Disney World Resort and surrounding areas. The day-long event enabled birders of all skill levels to discover which birds are found in Central Florida in the winter. This was quite a treat for our Guests as well, since we were able to share with them stories and tips for identifying birds throughout the day.

Our holiday bird count is modeled after the Audubon Christmas bird count, which began in 1900. The National Audubon Society is among the many charities that has received support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, which has provided more than $3.3 million to support bird conservation around the world.

Data, collected from year to year, allows scientists to follow trends in bird populations and abundance over time. These trends help scientists focus their conservation efforts in key bird areas.

Our holiday bird count participants counted almost 14,000 individual birds representing 113 species. Fish crows were the most abundant species of the day – we counted 2,725! We also added some new species to our list including brown pelicans, hooded and black-throated green warblers, a Forster’s tern, a pine siskin, a vesper sparrow and a shiny cowbird.

Donald Duck Poses for Pictures at Epcot's Mexico Pavilion

By far the most unique “species” spotted during the day was a very large duck wearing a sombrero at Epcot‘s Mexico Pavilion. Donald was happy to pose for pictures with our birders.

Cast Members and their families enjoyed being “citizen scientists,” and the information gathered from our holiday bird count will be used to help us and other organizations look for trends in bird species abundance and diversity and assist with conservation efforts.

Recent Wildlife Wednesdays:

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Wildlife Wednesdays: Baby Animals’ First Christmas

posted on December 22nd, 2010 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


Each year my team has lots of fun transforming the Wildlife Tracking Center at Rafiki’s Planet Watch into a unique winter wonderland. I say unique because I bet most holiday decorations don’t include a poop snowman family!

A Poop Snowman Family at the Wildlife Tracking Center at Rafiki's Planet Watch

This year our theme is “Babies’ First Christmas.” We’re celebrating the first Christmas of all of our animal babies born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2010, including a baby white rhino, Lola; a baby gorilla, Lilly; and a baby elephant, Luna. All of the plush animals in the Wildlife Tracking Center are decked out in their holiday finest and decorations include a favorite Wildlife Tracking Center holiday tradition: the cotton-top tamarin Christmas tree.

Woodrat Plush Animals Decked Out for the Holidays at the Wildlife Tracking Center

We have some fun baby animal trivia to share with Guests who visit us. I’ll share a few of the trivia questions here with Disney Parks Blog readers (answers are at the end of this post):

  1. What species produced the smallest baby?
  2. What species produced the largest baby?
  3. What species produced the second most babies in 2010?

A big part of the celebration, of course, is helping to ensure a bright new year for wildlife and nature. Everyone can help to do that by using the Earth’s resources wisely, including always remembering to reduce, reuse and recycle, and supporting wildlife conservation organizations, including the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

Trivia question answers:

  1. Tanzanian tailless whip scorpion (too small to be weighed!)
  2. Elephant (our newest baby elephant, Luna, weighed 288 pounds at birth.)
  3. Taveta golden weaver (a species of bird native to Africa), 90 were hatched — the species that produced the most (300 babies) was, once again, the Tanzanian tailless scorpion.
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Wildlife Wednesdays: Cotton-Top Tamarins Return to Tree of Life

posted on December 1st, 2010 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


I’m really excited to kick off a series of posts called “Wildlife Wednesdays.” In the series, members of the Disney’s Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives team will share photos and information on the amazing wildlife at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Cotton-Top Tamarin

First up is one of my favorite animals – the cotton-top tamarin. I met my first cotton-top when I was a 19-year-old college student, which led to a life-long effort to help this criticially endangered, one-pound monkey with a wild head of white hair (yes, that’s how they got their name!) found only in northern Colombia, South America.

Guests who visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the theme park’s early years will remember that they could see cotton-tops in a habitat near the Tree of Life. Since just last month, cotton-tops are, once again, in this location – in a new enhanced habitat. Guests also can still visit cotton-tops (and golden lion tamarins and emperor tamarins too) at Rafiki’s Planet Watch on the pathway to Conservation Station.

Cotton-tops need our help. With fewer than 7,500 remaining in the tropical forests of Colombia and tropical forests being cut down every day, we don’t have time to wait. Find out more about what you can do by visiting the Proyecto Titi website. When you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can help by supporting the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

Cotton-top tamarin fun facts:

  • Cotton-top tamarins live in families that range in size from 2-8 members – it’s mom, dad, and the kids.
  • Female cotton-top tamarins generally give birth to twins once a year that weigh almost 15 percent of their body weight – that’s equivalent to a women who weighs about 150 lbs giving birth to two ten-pound infants!
  • Can a cotton-top mom raise her babies by herself? Nope, she needs help. Mom, dad, brothers and sisters all help to take care of the babies. Cotton-top tamarins have perfected the art of babysitting.
  • What do a cotton-top tamarin and a plastic bag have in common? Proyecto Titi has taught women to crochet using plastic bags like the ones we bring home from the grocery store. They make these beautiful tote bags called eco-mochilas that are sold in several shops at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Purchasing an eco-mochila helps communities in Colombia protect forests that the cotton-top tamarins call home.
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Elephants Have Word for ‘Bee-Ware’

posted on April 26th, 2010 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


Elephants at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Do elephants tell members of their elephant family to beware when bees are nearby? That’s just one of the exciting questions scientists at Disney’s Animal Kingdom get a chance to ponder. As Senior Conservation Biologist for Disney’s Animal Programs, I have the opportunity to lead a team of scientists whose research helps answer this and many other questions on what wildlife do and why.

A member of the team, Research Scientist Joseph Soltis, Ph.D., has been studying elephants and bees as part of ongoing work to help elephants in Kenya in partnership with scientists from Oxford University and Save the Elephants and with funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund ($45,000 to Save the Elephants since 2007). For the first time, elephants have been found to produce an alarm call associated with the threat of bees, and have been shown to retreat when a recording of the call is played even when there are no bees around. Results are being reported in PLoS One.

In experiments that were part of the study, the team played the sound of angry bees to elephant families and studied their reaction. Not only did the elephants flee from the buzzing sound but make a unique “rumbling” call, as well as shaking their heads.

The researchers believe such calls may be an emotional response to a threat, a way to coordinate group movements and warn nearby elephants –- or even a way of teaching inexperienced and vulnerable young elephants to beware. Further work is needed to confirm whether the rumble call is used for other kinds of threats, not just bees.

Joseph tells us that the calls also give tantalizing clues that elephants may produce different sounds in the same way that humans produce different vowels, by altering the position of their tongues and lips. It’s even possible that, rather like with human language, this enables them to give superficially similar-sounding calls different meanings.
Strategically Placed Beehives
Earlier research found that elephants avoid beehives in the wild and also will flee from the recorded sound of angry bees. Despite their thick hides adult elephants can be stung around their eyes or up their trunks, while calves could potentially be killed by a swarm of stinging bees as they have yet to develop this thick protective skin.

Why study elephants’ reactions to bees? Strategically placed beehives help to keep elephants from raiding crops. Preventing crop-raiding minimizes human-elephant conflict and elephant deaths, while providing local communities with a new source of income through honey production.

The next time you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, be sure to visit the Wildlife Tracking Center at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, where you can learn more about what elephants say to each other — and other wildlife research.

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