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World of Color - Celebrate!

Celebrating National Zoo Keeper Appreciation Week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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


This week is National Zoo Keeper Appreciation Week, and we are celebrating our keepers and aquarists with special activities to recognize their hard work and dedication. If you are visiting this week, be sure to tell them hello and thank you!

I could not be prouder of our tremendously talented team of cast members, who continue to impress with their expertise and compassion. They have dedicated their lives to caring for animals, and everything they do and learn here helps contribute to saving animals in the wild. The difference they are making is immeasurable.

Below are just a few of our dedicated cast members. We asked them to tell us about their favorite moments and why they enjoy their roles.

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‘In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.’ (by Baba Dioum) This quote is the definition of why I’m an animal keeper. My job is awesome because of the animals I get to work with, but my job also makes it possible for guests to learn about these animals and love them as much as I do.”
– Katie Lusnia

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“I am very lucky that my favorite moment as an animal keeper happens every day. I love when my animals are excited to see me, even though they are more likely excited to see the food in my hands. I also love their quiet munching once they have all been fed and are happily in the barn.”
– Chelsea Lynn

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“My favorite moments usually involve us being able to help out an animal that, in the wild, would not have survived. Most recently, we had a sand gazelle calf born with multiple issues. After a pretty rough few days and 24-hour care, this calf started to gain strength. After a couple weeks, she was basically fully recovered. Seeing your hard work result in the survival of animal, especially a young animal, is pretty awesome.“
– Matthew McHarness

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“We are involved in daily training, enrichment programs, assisting the veterinarians during procedures, sharing our knowledge with the guests as well as making memories for them during their visit.”
– Kelly Savage

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“I enjoy the interaction and observation of the many different species … I also find it very interesting working with the veterinary staff performing health assessments on many different species of animals.”
– Chad Spicer

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“I feel like we make a difference in the lives of the animals that we take care of. We form a relationship with every single animal that we take care of and that is very rewarding. Also, baby animals are super cute.”
– Danielle Boggs

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“After having helped with the endocrine research and care of the mother for more than two years, witnessing the birth of a giraffe calf was incredibly rewarding to me.”
– Gretchen Mueller

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“[I have] access to the best and most-advanced facilities for the care and development of the animals who roam our savannas. The animals … are truly the driving inspiration in what makes Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge a premiere resort… Being able to work with the Disney Conservation Fund is also a reward that may go unnoticed by some, but the keepers at Disney know that we are both igniting a passion in future generations and doing our best to preserve the natural wonders and animals better than anyone else.”
– Ashley Roth

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I enjoy being an aquarist because I have always been captivated by the ocean and everything that can be found in it … I also strive to provide educational moments for our guests so that they can learn about and respect our oceans, and hopefully help make changes that can benefit all of our planet’s ecosystems.
– Eric Grunthaner

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“When I first started, it was so cool to see the amazing relationships keepers have with their animals … The animals recognize me now and come over to say ‘Hi.’ That’s a favorite moment every day.”
– Erin O’Neill

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Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Wheels at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on July 22nd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


In the past, I have shared with you many examples of the excellent care our team of professionals gives the animals you see at Walt Disney World Resort. We also help rehabilitate native wildlife, which includes birds, snakes, armadillos, manatees and more.

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Recently, we began caring for a native gopher tortoise. While we don’t know how he was injured, we believe he might have been hit by an automobile. Our veterinarians, veterinary technicians, hospital keepers, and wildlife interns have been working closely with this gopher tortoise during the past month.

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The tortoise sustained an injury to the back of his shell that also affected his back legs. After brainstorming different ideas to help him maneuver better, a suggestion was made about giving him wheels. But how?

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One of our veterinarians attached LEGO blocks with an animal-friendly epoxy resin reinforced with tape to the bottom of his shell. Within minutes, the tortoise we are now calling Wheels began walking across the hospital floor. It was a success!

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Hospital keepers Jennifer Holmes and Jen Hershey act as mentors to our Wildlife Hospital professional interns, Tori D’Amico and Brandon Waldron. They all continue to monitor Wheels to make sure he is comfortable and able to move around. The team expects Wheels to stay with them for a while as his health improves. Wheels’ wheels will be modified throughout his healing process to ensure the best fit. When the team feels confident that he is fully healed and able to be released into the wild, they will remove his wheels.

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The gopher tortoise is a protected species, native to the southeastern United States. These tortoises dig deep burrows that are sometimes filled in by land developments and construction. The gopher tortoise is also a keystone species because other animals, such as snakes and eastern indigos, also live in their burrows.

The next time you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Wheels at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in the on-stage procedure room!

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Rhino Kiama Makes Her Big Debut at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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


Earlier this year, thousands of you voted to name our female baby rhino Kiama. She has been growing rapidly – gaining about three or four pounds a day – and now you can see her during your next adventure on Kilimanjaro Safaris!

Wildlife Wednesday: Kiama Makes Her Big Debut Wildlife Wednesday: Kiama Makes Her Big Debut

The young white rhino just stepped on to the savanna for the first time. Kiama weighs about 400 pounds, while her mom Kendi is closer to 4,000 pounds! Kendi was born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1999.

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Kiama stays close to her mom, and sometimes breaks away to play in the dirt or investigate different noises. Then, she playfully runs back to the safety of her mom. They are a joy to watch, and I hope you have the opportunity to see them exploring the savanna soon! You can help rhinos in the wild by purchasing only “wildlife-friendly” products and never buying products made from rhino horns. You also can support organizations like the Disney Conservation Fund and the International Rhino Foundation, which are both active in rhino research and conservation. Learn more about rhinos and other animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot at DisneyAnimals.com.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care

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


I am honored to announce that Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge were granted official accreditation once again by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The AZA accredits only those zoos and aquariums that meet the highest standards in animal management and care. Late last year, we hosted an AZA inspection team who assessed everything from the enrichment our animals receive (that stimulates their natural behaviors and provides them variety in their daily routines), to our veterinary program, our conservation and research and education programs, as well as our safety policies and procedures, security, physical facilities, guest services and the experience and quality of our staff. They look at everything from each part of the operation not only in animal care but from food and beverage to merchandise. It’s quite the process!

Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care

After this review, the AZA Accreditation Commission deliberated and shared their decision to accredit Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge this past Sunday.

Being accredited allows us to create and continue to nurture our relationships with other accredited organizations to work toward a common goal of conservation and saving species.

Here are some of the wonderful and humbling comments AZA left with us:

  • “The level and commitment to animal care sets the gold standard for our community. Veterinary, nutrition, training, browse program and enrichment programs are state of the art.”
Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge are Committed 'Gold Standard' Care Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge are Committed 'Gold Standard' Care
  • “The keeper staff is professional, passionate and engaged.”
  • “Overall safety culture is extraordinarily strong across the organization, and staff training exceeds all expectations.”
  • “Disney’s Animal Kingdom staff has been successful in making conservation a key value of The Walt Disney Company. The current positive impact and future potential of this change cannot be overstated.”
  • “New interpretive programs, including Wilderness [Explorers] and Wild Africa Trek, add both breadth and depth to program offerings.”
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They also recognized the amazing amount of work going on with our upcoming expansion and praised our efforts to maintain a strong focus on animals, nature and conservation at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Renewing our accreditation also speaks to the importance we place on connecting kids and nature. Both the park and resort provide a quality experience to learn about animal and conservation in a fun, engaging environment.

Congratulations to the Cast of Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge once again.

Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care
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Wildlife Wednesday: Cotton-top Tamarins Are ‘On the Move’ at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on October 15th, 2014 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Disney’s Animal Kingdom is full of excitement, updates and changes! Even some of the animals are in on the excitement, including two cotton-top tamarins, Gemma and Draco, who just moved into a new home.

Gemma, a female tamarin, has been delighting guests at Rafiki’s Planet Watch since December 2000 where she was voted “best personality” by her keepers. In March 2011, she moved to Discovery Island to debut the remodeled tamarin island in front of the Tree of Life. This week she was joined by Draco for her second grand opening in a brand new exhibit which will bring their world even closer to guests. Draco, a male tamarin, has spent most of his life with his parents and five siblings in an indoor exhibit at the Milwaukee County Zoo. He joined us at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in August. His debut will mark the first time he has experienced an outdoor exhibit! He has already been observed chasing lizards in his backstage area.

Cotton-top Tamarin Draco at Disney's Animal Kingdom Cotton-top Tamarin Gemma at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Since his arrival, Draco also has spent time becoming acquainted with his new mate, Gemma. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) identified the pair as potential mates within its Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP works to ensure long-term survival of species by helping AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums manage species’ genetic diversity through detailed records of individual animals. Through the efforts of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ SSP, more than 300 cotton-top tamarins are cooperatively managed in more than 80 U.S. zoos. Over the past few weeks, Gemma and Draco have shown great interest in each other, and we believe they will be happy and successful mates.

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While Gemma and Draco finish acclimating and comfortably settle into their new home over the next few weeks, their job as animal ambassadors is just beginning! The cotton-top tamarin is one of the most endangered primates in the world. A 2008 census conducted by our partners at Proyecto Tití in Colombia concluded that only 7,500 cotton-tops remained in the wild, and the population has been severely impacted by habitat destruction throughout its range in Colombia. This information prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Primate Specialist Group to recommend changing the classification of cotton-top tamarins from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2008. Since then, Proyecto Tití increased their public outreach and education programs, stopped the development of a proposed airport, and secured two new protected areas for cotton-top tamarins and other wildlife to live safely in Colombia. The impact of the work is beginning to pay off, as we find communities are embracing conservation efforts and the population of cotton-tops appears stable!

One outreach program has taught women to crochet using plastic bags like the ones we bring home from the grocery store. (What a great way to recycle and keep trash out of the forest!) They make beautiful, colorful tote bags called ‘eco-mochilas’. These unique and environmentally friendly totes are sold locally in Colombia, online, and at Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Purchasing an eco-mochila helps communities in Colombia earn money for their families and protect forests that the cotton-top tamarins call home.

Don’t miss next week’s Wildlife Wednesday post to see Gemma and Draco in their new home, learn more about cotton-top conservation work and how education programs beginning in younger generations are positively affecting communities in Colombia. Until then, check out the video below to see some of the conservation work Proyecto Tití has already accomplished!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Congratulations to Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Awarded Prestigious Conservation Award at AZA Conference!

posted on October 8th, 2014 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


At the recent annual Association of Zoos and Aquariums meeting, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was recognized for our success with breeding a very special African bird. We received Top Honors (1st place) as the 2014 Edward H. Bean Award recipient for our Taveta golden weaver sustainability program.

The Edward H. Bean Award is a historic award within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recognizing rearing or management programs that contribute to the reproductive success of one or more species (and/or subspecies). Award eligibility takes into account the significance of the breeding program for the conservation of the species and the long-term commitment to the breeding program. It identifies a truly significant effort that clearly enhances the conservation of a species.

Wildlife Wednesday: Congratulations to Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Awarded Prestigious Conservation Award at AZA Conference! Wildlife Wednesday: Congratulations to Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Awarded Prestigious Conservation Award at AZA Conference!

From 1998-2014, our Aviary team successfully bred over 900 Taveta golden weaver chicks, which was instrumental in safeguarding the North American population. These chicks now live in AZA accredited zoos across the country, helping ensure that we maintain a genetically diverse population. To help the overall profession, the team also published two articles in scientific peer reviewed journals, and they have shared research findings and best practices at various conference sessions over the years. Please join me in congratulating all who have worked to conserve this species (and many others) since Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998!

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Did you know … ?

  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Aviary team also received the Edward H. Bean Award in 2008 for success with Carmine Bee-eaters.
  • Disney’s Animal Programs cast members are a part of Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment team. In addition to caring for the many animals at Disney Parks and Resorts around the world, the team strives to inspire Walt Disney Parks and Resorts to lead the way in environmental stewardship and connect people, animals, and plants to conserve nature for future generations.
  • Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment team includes cast members who specialize in education, veterinary care, conservation, marine and land animals, and everything in between!
  • Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment cast members also partner with various organizations to conserve wildlife and wild places across the globe.

Don’t miss next week’s Wildlife Wednesday to learn more about the exciting work of Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment team!

For more from the Wildlife Wednesday series, visit the posts below:

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Wildlife Wednesdays: World Oceans Day Celebration June 4 at The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot

posted on May 28th, 2014 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


On June 4 at The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, families can explore, learn and play with a host of special activities in celebration of World Oceans Day.

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a sea turtle? Sea turtles face great odds to reach adulthood. See a life-sized replica of a sea turtle nest and learn how hatchlings start their journey, and experience a turtle excluder device, used on fishing boats to keep sea turtles from getting caught in fishing nets.

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Hey dudes and dudettes, you can lend a helping flipper to Crush’s and Squirt’s pals by adopting a sea turtle nest at The Seas. During nesting season, Disney’s Animal Programs cast members monitor the beach near Disney’s Vero Beach for sea turtle nests. You can adopt one of these very special nests and follow the status of the hatchlings online. Receive an adoption certificate complete with the date of adoption, the date the nest was laid, the species of sea turtle, and the nest number so you can track the nest online, as well as a Squirt keychain and a Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund hero button. The adoption fee goes to sea turtle conservation efforts in Florida.

You can meet animal care and other experts from The Seas. Talk with these experts about their roles and their day-to-day activities.

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Learn about coral reefs and the critical role they play in our oceans. Did you know that although coral reefs encompass only about 0.2% of the area on our planet, they are home to 25% of the world’s marine animals? These rainforests of the ocean are in danger of extinction due to nutrient pollution and ocean acidification. The Disney’s Animal Programs team at The Seas is committed to coral reef restoration and is currently working on a project in Abaco, The Bahamas. You can talk with Disney scientists and learn about the work they are doing.

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund also is helping coral reefs by funding critical projects like one by the Coral Restoration Foundation, which is helping to engage communities in the protection of threatened coral populations in the Florida Keys. Take a look at the video:

On World Oceans Day, and every day, it’s important to remember that no matter where we live we are all connected to the oceans—any action we take that reduces waste (including recycling everything possible), saves water or keeps it clean, protects ocean wildlife or reduces emissions helps our oceans.
Upcoming 2014 events for connecting families with nature (as always, dates subject to change):

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

  • June 10: Pollinator Day
  • July 29: Big Cat Day
  • August 5: Primate Day
  • September 23: Elephant and Rhino Day
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Wildlife Wednesdays: Can You Name These Animals? Hint: They’re All at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge or The Seas with Nemo & Friends

posted on May 21st, 2014 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 International Day for Biological Diversity. Guests who visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot experience amazing biological diversity in the various species of animals that make their homes here.

Below are photos of just six of these animals. Can you identify them? Answers are at the bottom of the post.

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Each of us can help to protect the biological diversity of our planet through our everyday actions. Any action that reduces waste, saves water or keeps it clean, or reduces emissions can help make the world a better place for wildlife and all of us. For information on Disney conservation efforts, please visit www.disney.com/conservation.

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Wildlife Wednesdays: World Turtle Day Celebrated May 20 at Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on May 14th, 2014 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Guests can find out all kinds of fascinating information about turtles — including sea turtles like Crush and Squirt — and participate in a variety of activities for the whole family on May 20 when Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot celebrate World Turtle Day.

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At Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests may see a turtle getting a veterinary exam, try on a replica of a turtle shell, get an up-close look at some of the turtles and tortoises that make their home at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and talk with cast members about the conservation work they are doing to help turtles and tortoises that live on conservation land right here at the Walt Disney World Resort and in springs, rivers and oceans around the state.

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At The Seas with Nemo & Friends, children can climb through a full-size model of a turtle excluder device, used on fishing boats to prevent sea turtles from getting caught in nets. Families also can watch a sea turtle swimming gracefully by in the 5.7-million-gallon saltwater main aquarium, and play games that help them learn about the many threats turtles face, like getting entangled in trash and fishing line.

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Starting on World Turtle Day and continuing through the nesting season, guests visiting Conservation Station at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Seas at Epcot, and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort can help turtles by adopting a sea turtle nest. Guests receive an adoption certificate complete with the date of adoption, the date the nest was laid, the species of sea turtle, and the nest number so they can track their nest online, a Squirt keychain and a Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) hero button.

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Disney guests have adopted nearly 700 turtle nests so far, resulting in nearly $18,500 contributed to sea turtle conservation in Florida. Since its inception in 1995, the DWCF has contributed more than $1.2 million to sea turtle conservation around the world.

Upcoming 2014 events for connecting families with nature (as always, dates subject to change):

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

  • June 10: Pollinator Day
  • July 29: Big Cat Day
  • August 5: Primate Day
  • September 23: Elephant and Rhino Day

At The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot:

  • June 4: World Ocean Day
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Wildlife Wednesdays: Birds of All Kinds of Feather Flock Together at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on April 30th, 2014 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Every day is for the birds at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where guests can see a variety of birds when they visit walk-through aviaries on both the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek, see the fantastic bird show Flights of Wonder, and encounter birds large and small throughout the park. On May 6, however, birds truly take center stage when we celebrate International Migratory Bird Day with special activities at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

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Kids can get “banded” (which scientists do to gather data for bird conservation), becoming “honorary birds” for the day, and discover how their “feather color” (clothing), “wing span” (arm length), and height compares with various bird species. Families can play a diet-matching game and learn about the many different foods that our birds eat here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. They may even get to see a bird examined by our veterinarians at the animal hospital.

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Families also can talk with Cast Members about conservation work they are doing to protect birds, including the purple martin, the piping plover, and the whooping crane, and find out how the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) supports bird conservation. The DWCF, for example, has supported Operation Migration’s work on behalf of the rare whooping crane every year since the program’s inception in 2000.

Wildlife Wednesdays: Birds of All Kinds of Feather Flock Together at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Wildlife Wednesdays: Birds of All Kinds of Feather Flock Together at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Wildlife Wednesdays: Birds of All Kinds of Feather Flock Together at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Wildlife Wednesdays: Birds of All Kinds of Feather Flock Together at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Did you know?

  • International Migratory Bird Day focuses on the nearly 350 species of birds that migrate from breeding areas in North America to winter homes in Central and South America and the Caribbean. These birds face many challenges as they migrate thousands of miles, including loss of habitat along their migration routes, finding food and avoiding predators. International Migratory Bird Day helps educate people about the threats to migratory birds and what we can do to help—including planting native trees and shrubs, keeping cats indoors, and sup­porting conservation organizations.

Upcoming 2014 events for connecting families with nature (as always, dates subject to change):

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

  • May 20: World Turtle Day
  • June 10: Pollinator Day
  • July 29: Big Cat Day
  • August 5: Primate Day
  • September 23: Elephant and Rhino Day

At The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot:

  • May 20: World Turtle Day
  • June 4: World Ocean Day
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