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Wildlife Wednesday: Take a Peek at Some of the Baby Animals Born This Year

posted on December 30th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


What an amazing year it has been! Disney’s Animal Kingdom is seeing unprecedented growth – and I don’t mean the park expansion. I mean baby animals! We have enjoyed quite a baby boom at Disney’s Animal Kingdom during the last year. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Seas with Nemo & Friends have also seen a number of births.

Everyone loves to see baby animals, right? So, we thought we would close this year’s Wildlife Wednesday series with just a handful of the baby animals that joined our family this year.

Beginnings can be an exciting time, and I am embarking on one myself. I have decided to retire following an 18-year Disney career. It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to share with you these stories of conservation projects, education, the environment, science, nature and the animals that bring so much joy to our lives. It has been a privilege to work with the Disney company, and I am so proud of the work Disney does to care for animals here and around the world.

Mark Penning, Ph.D., someone you have heard from many times in this Wildlife Wednesday series, will lead the team in my place. I know his stories will continue to inspire and enlighten.

Thank you for your continued support of our goals and our dreams to make a real difference in the world.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney Conservation Director’s Pioneering Work with Cotton-Top Tamarins Honored

posted on December 16th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


In this Wildlife Wednesday series, you have heard from our conservation director Anne Savage, Ph.D., about our commitment to conservation and the projects we lead globally to help save species from becoming extinct.

I am very proud to share with you that Anne just received an extremely prestigious award in the field of conservation. Anne has been named one of this year’s Lowell Thomas Awardees from The Explorers Club. This esteemed award “celebrates explorers who exhibit excellence and innovation in conservation, with emphasis on emerging techniques and technologies that meaningfully contribute to our knowledge of the world and how we protect it.”

Whether helping educate guests at Walt Disney World Resort or contributing to wildlife and habitat protection around the world, Anne has helped lead Disney’s bold environmental approach as conservation director for Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment.

Anne has been the recipient of past awards, but with this new honor, she joins a century’s old society of celebrated pioneers and legendary explorers, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and Sally Ride. Wow.

Anne is very deserving of this exceptional award. She has been integral in the protection of cotton-top tamarins, a critically endangered primate found only in the tropical forests of Colombia. She has worked with the Colombian conservation group Proyecto Tití (a Disney Conservation Fund grant recipient) to develop a comprehensive, long-term strategy to protect wild cotton-top tamarins – arguably one of the best and well-rounded conservation programs in the world.

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As part of this more than 25-year program, Anne and her team have helped inspire a national movement to save this small monkey. She her team have developed education and sustainable income-generating programs for the rural communities surrounding the tamarins’ forest habitat. Her team has been instrumental in establishing Aug. 15 as a Colombian national holiday known as “Day of the Cotton-Top.” And she has successfully worked with the government to establish protected areas that will help this species.

Have you seen the cotton-top tamarins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? They are about the size of a squirrel with a large poof of white hair on their heads. The next time you visit, be sure to visit them on Discovery Island and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. You can even have a Starbucks flat white beverage at Creature Comforts right next to their habitat on Discovery Island – for every purchase, a donation is made to the Disney Conservation Fund!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Painted Dogs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on December 9th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


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We introduced painted dogs to the Kilimanjaro Safaris savanna earlier this week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Everyone in Animals, Science and Environment is thrilled to have this unique species join the family.

The name “painted dog” originates from their scientific name Lycaon pictus, which means “painted wolf-like animal” in Greek and Latin. Painted dogs, also known as African wild dogs, are known for their large round ears (They look a lot like Mickey Mouse ears!) and multi-colored fur coats. Each individual dog has unique paint-like splotches on their coat that are similar in their distinctiveness to a human fingerprint. Most also have bushy white-tipped tails.

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Painted dogs are among the most endangered species in Africa. By introducing painted dogs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we hope to raise awareness of the species and the threats they face, including human-habitat infringement and illegal hunting. The Disney Conservation Fund has been supporting painted dog conservation work in the wild since 1996 and has given more than half a million dollars to support painted dog conservation and research organizations.

Painted dogs are fascinating in their social behaviors. They operate as a family unit with all members of the pack caring for each other. They will even share food with ailing members of their pack or nursing mothers. The entire pack cares for pups after they are born. Both males and females will stay back with them as “babysitters” during hunting excursions.

When you’re on the Kilimanjaro Safaris savanna, I hope you can catch one of their elaborate greeting ceremonies. Each dog tries to interact with every other dog in the pack each time they wake up or return to the pack. Their yips and squeals are vocalizations that are unique to each dog and help others identify them.

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The painted dogs and hyenas will share the same spot of the savanna, but at different times of the day and evening. As always, guests will experience a different safari every time they ride.
Learn more about some of the animals you can visit at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at DisneyAnimals.com.

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Wildlife Wednesday: ‘Star’ring Peach at Epcot

posted on December 2nd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Meet Peach, a red cushion sea star at The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot. The Animal Care team often finds this adventurous sea star striking yoga-like poses, climbing corals or scaling the acrylic windows. Although Peach is always on the go, she will definitely slow down when lunch is served.

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Sea stars feed by extending their stomachs outside their body. How cool is that? Their stomachs stretch outward to cover an item of food and then secrete fluids that dissolve their prey, so they can digest it. They can even pry open a clam shell just enough to squeeze their stomach inside to eat it!

Sea stars can survive in many different habitats, including coral reefs, rocky shores and sea grass. Coral reefs, in particular, are home to 25 percent of all ocean species, so they are critical for many species’ survival. Unfortunately, there are numerous threats to coral, including increases in ocean temperature, ocean acidification and disease. The Disney Conservation Fund has supported coral conservation work around the world, and we have developed our own unique coral-restoration project led by scientists at The Seas with Nemo & Friends and Disney Cruise Line.

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The next time you are visiting Crush at Turtle Talk or helping Marlin and Dory find Nemo, don’t forget to take time to explore the aquariums upstairs where you will find Peach. If you’re lucky, you may even catch her doing yoga or eating lunch!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Animals Love Pumpkins!

posted on November 25th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


We are thankful to care for these amazing animals every day … and, recently, the animals showed us they are thankful for pumpkins!

Our animals love enrichment, including toys, scents and special food treats, including pumpkins! Enrichment is stimulating and fun for the animals, and it’s an important part of their care. Different types of enrichment enable the animals to make choices about their environment and encourage natural behaviors.

Here are just a few of our animals recently enjoying some fall enrichment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Disney Conservation Fund Honors 2015 Conservation Heroes

posted on November 23rd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


All over the world, there are thousands of dedicated people working day in and day out to protect wildlife and wild places, and to educate and engage local communities in conservation. Each year, the Disney Conservation Fund invites conservation nonprofit organizations to nominate people from communities where they work – people whose passion and dedication makes conservation possible – and we’re proud to honor them as Disney Conservation Heroes. They are heroes because they have gone above and beyond. They have identified needs in their communities, overcome obstacles and persevered, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, to make their communities and our planet a better place.

Let’s meet a few of the 22 honorees:

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Nurzhafarina Othman
Nominated by the Houston Zoo

Nurzhafarina’s passion for the Bornean elephant led her to become one of the first women in the field of elephant research in Sabah, Malaysia. Nurzhafarina works with communities to help increase tolerance toward elephants during human-wildlife conflicts. Her research on elephant herd social structure, migration patterns and human-elephant conflict led to the development of an elephant conservation management plan that will help better protect elephants and local communities.

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Revocatus Magayane
Nominated by the African People & Wildlife Fund
Revo works with the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) to implement education programs for more than 6,000 youth and adults spanning 12 villages and two districts in Tanzania. He manages wildlife clubs and summer camps for youth and co-teaches adult seminar courses on natural resource management. He has also helped graduates of these courses start their own community conservation projects. Revo is known for representing the voice of conservation while always considering the needs of the community where he works.

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Greenhouse Alumni Team: Brian Young, Joanna Ruacho, Joyce Realegeno and Bryan Payes (left to right)
Nominated by Los Angeles Audubon Society
Once high school student participants in the L.A. Audubon Society’s Greenhouse Program, these dedicated students now work for the Greenhouse Alumni Team to assist with habitat restoration, environmental education and endangered species conservation in the urbanized Ballona Creek Watershed of the Los Angeles Basin. Their diverse skills have allowed them to effectively connect with communities and teach others about conservation issues related to species like the Western snowy plover and California least tern. Their time, talent and motivation have been invaluable to the L.A. Audubon Society, and they serve as living examples of what the organization hopes to achieve through their environmental education programs for inner-city students in Los Angeles – young adults with a strong connection to nature, who are committed to conservation and who serve as environmental leaders within their community.

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Sean Lee & Tahambay Smith
Nominated by Fauna & Flora International
For the past eight years, Sean and Tahambay have volunteered nearly all of their spare time to protect and conserve the critically endangered Antiguan racer snake and other rare and endemic wildlife on Antigua’s offshore islands. After their day jobs, they travel each weekend, first by bus and then fishing boat, to the offshore islands to maintain trails, monitor wildlife and educate visitors. Their passion for wildlife has led them to become highly skilled conservation biologists now called upon to help train other local conservationists and inform legislation to formally protect the Antiguan racer.

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Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu
Nominated by Snow Leopard Conservancy
While conducting research in Mongolia, Tunga recognized that local people had no access to environmental education and collaborated with conservation organizations to create “Nomadic Nature Trunks” (NNT). This program provides travelling classrooms for school students and three weeks of interactive lesson plans on environmental stewardship and conservation of Mongolia’s ecosystems. In 2010, Tunga helped expand the program to include education programming for adults and turned NNT into an organization called Nomadic Nature Conservation.

Everyone you’ve read about is a true Conservation Hero – proving that one person can make a difference and inspire us all to help make a difference in our own communities to make the world a better place. You can read about the other 2015 Conservation Heroes by visiting www.disney.com/conservation.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Cast Members Help Bring ‘The Lion Guard’ to Disney Junior

posted on November 18th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


For the last year and a half, members of our Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment team have spent lots of time with animated hippos, lions, hyenas and more on the colorful savanna of Disney’s “The Lion Guard,” which continues the epic storytelling of “The Lion King” and introduces Kion, Simba and Nala’s second-born cub, as he assumes his role of leader of the Lion Guard, a team of animals tasked with preserving the Pride Lands.

Wanting to ensure a level of authenticity in the animal world, the Disney Junior team asked us to assist and advise on the characteristics, behaviors and habitats of the African animal species featured in both the primetime television movie debuting this Sunday, November 22 on Disney Channel and the upcoming television series premiering on Disney Channel and Disney Junior in early 2016.

NANCY KANTER (EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING & GENERAL MANAGER, DISNEY JUNIOR), FORD RILEY (EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "THE LION GUARD"), DR. JILL MELLEN (EDUCATION AND SCIENCE DIRECTOR, DISNEY'S ANIMAL KINGDOM), EMILY HART (VP, ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING, DISNEY JUNIOR), TIMON

Led by Dr. Jill Mellen, who oversees our scientific and education efforts, our team has reviewed scripts and made suggestions that more accurately illustrate the personalities and preferences of the animals we care for each day, as well as ones in the wild. The animated characters speak, of course, and although that’s not something we see on the savannas of Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, otherwise, the behaviors of Kion and his friends – Beshte, Ono, Fuli and Bunga – are representative of the natural behaviors of these animals.

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Dr. Jill and a number of our ASE cast members just returned from the red-carpet premiere of “The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar” held last weekend at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA, where they enjoyed another opportunity to introduce more children to the beauty of the animal world and the magic of nature.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Hyenas have arrived at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on November 11th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


We are proud to share that two spotted hyenas have been introduced to the Kilimanjaro Safaris savanna at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! The hyenas were first introduced to the savanna last week and appear to enjoy their new home.

Because the area is so new to the duo, they have only been out for short periods of time so far. Their time on the savanna will increase as the days go by.

If you watched Disney’s The Lion King, you will remember the villainous hyenas. The hyenas were the bullies of the savanna, often confronting Simba and his friends.

In reality, hyenas are an incredibly interesting and powerful species, and I can guarantee you they are not all villains.

Groups of Hyenas are referred to as clans. The clans sometimes come together to hunt and defend their territory, but most activities are done solo or in small groups. In the wild, they hunt their own food and – contrary to public opinion – do not often scavenge another animal’s meal.

The ranking of hyenas’ social structure and clans are also very important to a hyena’s way of life. Females are the leaders of the clans, with the lowest-ranking female ranking above the highest-ranking male. The low-ranking males will often be found on the outskirts of the clan and only participate in hunting or fights.

Although hyenas are doing better than many species in the wild, because of their wide range and large population, they are still facing a population decline. Loss of habitat is a significant threat, as well as local communities treating them as pests and hunters poaching them.

By having hyenas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we hope to show our Guests that the misconceptions about this species are not true. These animals deserve our consideration, and I’m confident you will enjoy learning more about them.

Visit DisneyAnimals.com to learn more about some of the animals at the Walt Disney World Resort.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Enjoy Enrichment

posted on November 4th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


If you were lucky enough to be visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge last week, you may have seen some of the zebras, giraffes and ankole cattle enjoying some themed enrichment on the savanna just as the sun was setting.

Enrichment is stimulating and fun for the animals, and it’s an important part of their care. It allows them to make choices about their environment and encourages natural behaviors. Watch just a few examples of enrichment in this video taken at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Halloween Tales from Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on October 28th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Halloween is only a few days away, and I want to share some fun Halloween tales (and tails!) with you from Disney’s Animal Kingdom about the Malayan flying foxes, Okapis and Baobab trees.

True or False: Bats will suck your blood.

False! Malayan flying foxes, the fruit bats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will not suck your blood. Flying foxes enjoy fruits and vegetables, and the ones at Disney’s Animal Kingdom love watermelon, papaya and figs. Since flying foxes love these foods, they play a very important role as seed distributers in the wild. They’ll chew their food and spit out remaining seeds as they fly. This helps the eco-system by sometimes introducing plants to new locations.

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Bats also have a bad reputation for being blind, or having bad eyesight. This couldn’t be more wrong! Although some bats use echolocation, flying foxes don’t. Their eyesight is almost three times better than humans, and they can see in color.

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Originally from Southeast Asia, flying foxes face habitat destruction, hunting and are susceptible to extreme heat. They don’t have sweat glands, which means they need moisture, or water, to help cool themselves down.

True or False: Okapis are the ghosts of the forest.

True! Okapis are originally from the Congo and weren’t discovered until the 1900s. This is probably because they live solitary lives in very dense forests, and hence the ghost name. Living in the forest has also allowed okapis to develop amazing hearing that they rely on to listen for predators or movement.

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Most people assume that okapis are related to zebras because of the pattern on their behind, but they are actually the only relative of giraffe. This disruptive coloring evolved to mimic light coming through trees to better camouflage okapi from predators in the wild.

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Okapis are considered endangered because of its rapid population decline over the past two decades. They are hunted as bushmeat, face habitat loss and are ensnared in traps meant for other animals.

True or False: Baobab trees are dead, spooky and probably haunted.

False! Although the trees look like they are upside down, and possibly dead, they are very much alive. Baobab trees help support eco-systems by acting as a home and food for animals and food for humans. Baobabs can provide shelter for animals like snakes, bats and bees to name a few.

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Baobab trees have the ability to store large volumes of water, which is especially helpful during drought seasons. However, animals like elephants and eland often chew on the tree bark to hydrate. Unfortunately, this ultimately harms the trees.

Both animals and humans like to eat the Baobab fruit and seedpods. The fruit has twice as much calcium as milk, is high in anti-oxidants, iron and potassium, and has six times the vitamin C of an orange. The seeds also produce edible oil. In some parts of Africa, the baobab is called the “tree of life.” Sound familiar? The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is, in fact, a baobab tree.

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Baobabs suffer from being waterlogged, drought, black fungus and, as already mentioned, animals eating the bark. These as well as habitat invasion, hurt the baobabs and have motivated researchers to start studying the livelihood of the species.

Happy Halloween from everyone at Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment! What other animal tales have you heard? Let us know in the comment section below!

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