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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

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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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Wildlife Wednesday: Water Buffalo are a New Species at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on October 21st, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks

We are proud to announce that three water buffalo have been introduced to the Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Rose, Dorothy and Blanche are enjoying the comfort of the grassy fields and brush, which they share with the blackbuck, Eld’s deer, Sarus cranes, ruddy shelducks and bar-headed geese. One of our cast members came up with the names for the trio, and they seem to fit pretty well so far.

The three girls have developed into a close-knit group and like to follow each other everywhere they go. Guests might see them laying in a triangle with their backs to each other as they get used to their new home. This sitting position allows all three of them to be watching each side of the group while they continue to get acclimated to the space. This is a behavior that a lot of hoofed animals will use in the wild to keep an eye out for predators.


Cast members working with the water buffalo are excited for the new species. Keeper Amy Burgess has worked with many different animals in her career, and even a few species of cattle. However, she’s never worked with water buffalo before a few months ago.

“It’s always exciting to work with something new and different,” Amy said.

To benefit this species, we made some changes to the exhibit specifically for them. The area where the water buffalo spend their time now includes a pool because water buffalo have fewer sweat glands than other species. They need to have access to be able to – at least occasionally – either sit or wallow in the water.


Domestic and wild water buffalo prefer habitats of grasslands, forests and rivers. Especially during dry seasons, water buffalo will often retreat to water to stay comfortable.

One of the greatest threats to water buffalo in the wild is a loss of habitat. This, pressure from over-hunting and interbreeding between wild and domestic buffalo has resulted in an almost 50 percent decrease in population during the past 10 years. That makes it even more important that we’re able to share these wonderful animals with our Guests. Anyone can make a donation to the Disney Conservation Fund at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other locations throughout Walt Disney World Resort.


At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, cast members continue to bond with Rose, Dorothy and Blanche. It’s been helpful to have a number of keepers working with the water buffalo so that we can give the best care to our animals.

“That’s one of things I like about [working] here,” Amy said. “We have people from different zoos and people that have worked on different teams here, and they’ll give suggestions from what they did working somewhere else, or with a different animal … we have a lot of strengths to draw from.”

Visit to learn more about some of the other animals you can find at Walt Disney World Resort.


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Wildlife Wednesday: Team Effort Saves Taveta Golden Weaver

posted on October 14th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks

Each week we share stories about the newest baby animals, updated conservation stories and new species being introduced to our animal areas around Walt Disney World Resort. This week, I want to tell you about the remarkable effort that saved one of our Taveta golden weavers, a bird native to Kenya and Tanzania.


Late one evening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a Taveta golden weaver chick was attempting to fly when it was injured by a Hamerkop bird inside the aviary along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The young chick was in critical condition when a keeper brought the bird to the vet hospital at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The attack caused damage to the trachea, and the chick, who weighed only 15 grams, appeared to have a difficult time breathing.

“His trachea had basically started closing in on itself from all the inflammation so he couldn’t breathe,” said Veterinarian Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko. “The advantage of birds is that they also have air sacs in their body which help with flight, but are also an integral part of their respiratory system.”

Dr. Natalie and a team of keepers and veterinarians knew they had to think fast to save the chick’s life. They thought of a minor procedure, usually performed on larger birds, that allows them to put a tube into a bird’s air sac so that the bird can breathe through the tube until the trachea is healed.

“We had to basically create a tube, so we took an IV catheter for a larger animal, snipped it, smoothed it, popped it in and sewed it in,” Dr. Natalie said. “Remarkably, it worked really, really well, and then we gave him medicine and supportive care. By the next day, his trachea had completely gone back to normal [so that] we were able to take the tube out. It was a really quick turn-around.”

This is just one of the great examples of how our cast members work to take care of our animals every day. We can also use success stories like this to share knowledge with other animal-care facilities for future reference and use.

“A week or two later, the keepers said, ‘We can’t even tell which bird he is anymore!’ I had a lot of amazing technicians around me to keep the bird alive while we were trying to pull together what to do. It was just remarkable,” Dr. Natalie said.

Visit to learn about some of the animals you can find at Walt Disney World Resort.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Malosi at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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

We want to introduce you to one of the tigers you may see along the winding trails of Maharajah Jungle Trek—Meet Malosi!


Malosi is our newest tiger at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While Malosi, a male Sumatran tiger, gets used to his new habitat, he may be exploring both onstage and backstage areas on Maharajah Jungle Trek. You may see this curious cat cooling off in the water or resting in the sun.

As you may remember when we introduced you to Sohni last year, Sumatran tigers are the smallest subspecies of tiger and are found only on the small island in Indonesia where this tiger gets its name. Males like Malosi stretch 6.5-to-nearly-8-feet long, and typically weigh only between 220 and 310 pounds. While this may seem like a big cat, the Sumatran tiger’s cousin, the Siberian tiger (or Amur tiger, as they are also known), weighs between 400 and 600 pounds!


When you visit Malosi, Sohni and the other tigers here, keep these fun facts in mind:

  • Malosi and other tigers can see about as well as humans during the day, but when the sun goes down, their vision is six times more powerful than ours.
  • Can you wiggle your ears? Tigers sure can. Their ears turn independently of each other and in an arc up to 180 degrees, allowing them to pick up sounds from all different directions.
  • You may know tigers are pretty good swimmers despite the reputation of their domesticated cousins—the house cat. Tigers spend a lot of time in the water and even use water as a tool in hunting. They have been seen fishing in rivers and lakes.

Human impact has dramatically decreased Sumatran tiger numbers in the wild. They are critically endangered, with as few as 500 tigers left in the wild. Conservation organizations like those supported by the Disney Conservation Fund are working hard to make a difference. You can help tigers by donating to the Disney Conservation Fund at select merchandise and food and beverage locations on your next visit and don’t forget to say “hi” to our feline friends on Maharajah Jungle Trek.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Welcome our Baby Giraffe to the Savanna!

posted on August 26th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks

Big news for the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – our newest giraffe calves have ventured out onto the savanna for the first time. Mara, Milo and Lincoln are 3-, 4- and 5-months old, respectively, and are doing very well in their new home.


Although on our savanna, the giraffe don’t have to be concerned with predators, we want to make sure they are old enough to follow their mothers and family, so our animal keepers keep them backstage until they are old enough to feel secure. In the wild, giraffe calves have to learn how to follow their mothers in case there is danger.


Of the nine subspecies of giraffe, Masai giraffe are the amongst most populous in the wild at about 35,000, but sadly reports of increased poaching for their meat, hide and tails are leading to significant reductions. Two of the other subspecies are already critically endangered. When you see them on the savanna, note their spots – Masai giraffe have leafy, uneven spots. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, you will find reticulated giraffe that have smooth-edged spots.


Giraffe are very curious, observant animals that like to survey their land very carefully. This makes “every day a new day” for giraffe. They will notice if there are any new additions to the savannah, including other animals or changes to the landscape. This is true in the wild as well; because giraffe are so tall and pay such close attention to their surroundings, other animals use them as safety indicators.


The next time you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we hope you see Lincoln, Milo and Mara on the savanna at Kilimanjaro Safaris. They will probably be close to their moms, learning all they need to know to grow to adulthood.

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