Japan Pavilion at Epcot

Wildlife Wednesday: When You Think of Elephants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. . . Think Big!

posted on July 2nd, 2014 by Kathy Lehnhardt, Curator of Education, Disney’s Animal Programs


Elephant care at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a big job! Elephants are intelligent, social, and complex animals so meeting all their care requirements means lots of work and dedication, especially when the herd consists of eight unique individuals to look after. Our Animal Care Team provides daily baths, facility cleaning, foot care, feeding, record keeping, advanced training and enrichment programs all completed in an environment that is safe for both elephants and people. Our Veterinarians are able to perform many medical procedures without tranquilization as a result of effective training, so the elephants actually assist in their own health care. And of course there is plenty of time for elephant social interactions in not one, but three large habitats spanning about seven acres.

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As you can imagine, elephants are big… really big! In fact, they are the largest land animal on our planet. But it’s hard to imagine just how big they are until you stand next to an African bull [male] elephant. Since this is an opportunity very few people have the chance to experience, the Elephant Care Team at Disney’s Animal Kingdom worked with Disney Imagineering to simulate the experience by adding three life-sized silhouettes of elephants on the elephant house:

1. An adult bull at 11 feet tall
2. An adult cow at 8 feet tall
3. A newborn calf at 3 feet tall

Guests participating in the Backstage Safari program now have the chance to safely measure themselves next to an elephant –an elephant silhouette that is – for a real height and size comparison. Day guests onboard the Wildlife Express Train at Disney’s Animal Kingdom can also view the elephant silhouettes as the train passes the backstage elephant house.

To further enhance the area and share our commitment to elephants, both at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and in the wild, the team also added an inscription to the elephant house that proudly declares: “Dedicated to Elephant Care and Conservation.”

Conserving elephants in the wild is also a big job! It is currently estimated that each day, 96 African elephants are killed for various reasons including their ivory tusks. Only by working together can we help protect elephants from illegal poaching.

Walt Disney said it best, “Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people, it’s a matter that concerns all of us … If we will use our riches wisely, if we will protect our wildlife, and preserve our lakes and streams these things will last us for generations to come.”

To learn more about how you can get involved in elephant conservation, visit: www.elephantconservation.org, www.Savetheelephants.com or the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants campaign, at www.96elephants.org.

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Wildlife Wednesdays: Leap to Help Frogs on Leap Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on February 22nd, 2012 by Kathy Lehnhardt, Curator of Education, Disney’s Animal Programs


While guests are celebrating One More Disney Day at Magic Kingdom Park here in Florida and Disneyland park in California, some of our Walt Disney World Resort guests will be leaping, hopping and jumping at Disney’s Animal Kingdom during a Leap Day event aimed at helping guests learn more about frogs, toads and other amphibians.

Guests Learn About Frogs, Toads and Other Amphibians During a Special Leap Day Event at Disney's Animal Kingdom

During their visit to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, children and families can make toad abodes (special homes for frogs and toads) for their backyards, try leaping like a frog, listen to frog calls, examine amphibian adaptations, and meet some cool amphibians and their keepers on the Conservation Station stage.

Guests Learn About Frogs, Toads and Other Amphibians During a Special Leap Day Event at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Guests also can learn about the critically endangered Puerto Rican crested toad, which we are raising at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and releasing in their native habitat to re-populate the species in an area where these toads once thrived but are now considered extinct.

Did you know that, according to some estimates, as many as one-third of the known amphibian species are threatened by extinction because of loss of habitat, climate change, pollution and disease? The good news is that every one of us can help amphibians leap ahead of extinction. Here’s how:

  • Invite a bug-zapping amphibian into your backyard by placing an overturned pot (toad abode) as a home
  • Use fewer chemical pesticides on your lawn to keep amphibians healthy
  • Build a pond, plant native shrubs, and leave leaf litter and logs in your yard to create a habitat for frogs
  • Plan a family outing to a local pond to hear different species of frogs sing their love songs to one another
  • Find natural alternatives to household chemicals so these toxins don’t end up in amphibian habitats
  • Take part in a local pond or stream clean-up to ensure that native amphibians will have a clean home
  • Find books on frogs to discover why they sing loudly, hear well and stay up late

Beyond their beautiful chorus, frogs also provide a free pest-control service. Frogs eat billions of harmful insects annually, including mosquitoes and their larvae. Frogs also provide valuable scientific and medical benefits to humans. The skin of amphibians contains substances that can protect them from some microbes and viruses, which can offer possible medical cures for a variety of human diseases, including AIDS.

Upcoming 2012 wildlife conservation events at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (as always, dates subject to change):

  • Apr. 13-22: Party for the Planet for Earth Day
  • May 12: International Migratory Bird Day
  • July 18: Pollinator Day
  • August: Cotton-Top Tamarin Month
  • Sept. 5: International Vulture Awareness Day
  • Sept. 26: Elephant Awareness Day
  • Oct. 31: Bat Day
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Wildlife Wednesdays: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Goes to Bat for Bats on October 26

posted on October 19th, 2011 by Kathy Lehnhardt, Curator of Education, Disney’s Animal Programs


Wildlife Wednesdays: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Goes to Bat for Bats on October 26

Most people fear bats. They are the animals people love to hate! Why? Because bats come out at night, fly into people’s hair, attack them and suck blood, right? And let’s face it, they fly all around and are hard to see and catch.

Bats really are the good guys! That’s why Disney’s Animal Kingdom is celebrating the Year of the Bat at Conservation Station on October 26 (9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.). Family-friendly activities will feature our very own not-so-scary bat cave, where children will census bat populations. Guests also will be able to play a bat board game that highlights cool facts about bats, talk with Bat Conservation International staff, learn how Disney is helping bats through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and meet our bat keepers who will introduce videos of our bat training program that ensures the best health and care for our bats.

Everyone has a bat story. My sister-in-law told me about a time she visited Mackinaw Island and everyone was told to run into their houses at dusk to avoid the bats that supposedly dived-bomb people. On the other extreme, a few friends and I made a point of sitting outside on Ngamba Island in Uganda, gin and tonic in hand, to watch the sky darken as huge numbers of bats flew out of the forest in search of insects over Lake Victoria. What a spectacular sight!

Wildlife Wednesdays: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Goes to Bat for Bats on October 26

As with most fears, once you know more about bats, the less feared they become. Most bats in the U.S. are insect-eaters that are highly beneficial, gulping down thousands of pesky flies and mosquitoes every night. Others are pollinators, re-growing trees and other plants for future generations.

Do you have a bat story? Share them with us here and we’ll post them at our Year of the Bat celebration.

Bat Fun Facts:

  • The Malayan Flying Fox, which guests can see on the Maharajah Jungle Trek when they visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, is one of the largest bats in the world with a wingspan of close to 6 feet. Being an Old World fruit bat, they can’t echolocate and instead use their excellent eyesight to fly at night and sense of smell to locate food.
  • While many bats are nocturnal, both the Malayan Flying Fox and the Rodrigues fruit bat (another species of bat guests can see on the Maharajah Jungle Trek) are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dusk and dawn. Although they are most active during the sunrise and sunset hours, they may be observed fanning, grooming, stretching out their wings and even flying on occasion during the day.
  • For 2011, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund is sponsoring a Bat Conservation International project in Mexico that will help teach wildlife professionals and a new generation of conservationists about migratory bats, increasing the odds that these prized pollinators and pest managers return healthy each year to North America’s fields, farms and forests.
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Wildlife Wednesdays: Forest Animals are Stars of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebration

posted on July 13th, 2011 by Kathy Lehnhardt, Curator of Education, Disney’s Animal Programs


An Okapi at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Okapi, which call forests in Africa home, and the white-cheeked gibbon, native to the forests of Asia, are just two of the many animals guests can see when they visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Forest animals will be the stars of a special celebration taking place July 27 (9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in honor of the International Year of Forests.

Given the importance of forests to people and wildlife alike, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness of sustainable management, conservation and development of all types of forests. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, during our Year of the Forest celebration, guests can discover the wonders of forests and learn more about the variety of wildlife that depend on them. In special activities, children can use clues to match animals to the types of forest they live in and use their observational skills to locate animals in a forest setting. Guests also will meet fabulous forest insects, amphibians and reptiles, and our knowledgeable animal care staff, who will share the amazing adaptations of these forest animals. Conservation projects that are linked to saving forest habitat will be featured, along with the cast who work on these projects.

My favorite forest memory? Two of our group, myself included, were trailing behind the others at the end of a long day’s hike in the Amazon rainforest. The humidity was high and hung in the air like a heavy curtain after a late afternoon downpour. As dusk approached, we quietly made our way through the tangle of vines and branches. Only the sounds of the forest insects and amphibians were audible now. A quick movement caught my eye in the trees about 10 feet away. Two big-eyed monkeys were waking to begin their nightly search for food. We stopped and stood very still as the douroucoulis, otherwise known as owl monkeys, sat quietly on a branch just watching us. The scene lasted only a few minutes and then they vanished into the darkness. This was one of nature’s magical moments! We realized that spotting owl monkeys in the Amazon at dusk is a rare sighting. Nocturnal animals are not usually seen by visitors to the forest.

White-cheeked Gibbons at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Forests are important to our lives. Can you name the different forests you’ve visited? People depend on the world’s forests to regulate the water cycle, store carbon dioxide and support biological diversity. Forests provide crucial elements that maintain life and provide humans with fuel, food and shelter. They are able to influence daily weather and stabilize our climate. Our forests are nutrient reservoirs that sequester large amounts of carbon, which we know now is critical in preventing drastic climate change. Forests keep our planet healthy…they are said to be the “lungs of the earth” because of their restorative qualities of “ breathing” oxygen into our atmosphere.

Learn about forest-friendly products and what you can do to help forests. For teachers, lesson plans on forests from around the world are available if you visit the International Zoo Educators Association website at www.izea.net. Finally, for those of you looking for events around the U.S. that celebrate the Year of the Forest visit www.celebrateforests.com for more information.

Why do you go to the forest? Henry David Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and…not, when I come to die, discover that I had not lived.” Forests form the backdrop in many people’s lives. What role will it play in yours? How will you protect it?

For more information on Disney conservation efforts, visit www.disney.com/conservation.

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

August – Cotton-top Tamarin Month Celebration
September 1 – International Vulture Awareness Day
October 26 – Year of the Bat Celebration

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Be an ‘Honorary Bird’ at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on May 13th, 2011 by Kathy Lehnhardt, Curator of Education, Disney’s Animal Programs


Everyone knows about the famous migration of millions of zebras and wildebeests crossing the African savanna, right? Well, did you know that an even larger migration takes place every year right in your own backyard? Hundreds of millions of neotropcial songbirds head north and south each year. Some will stop to find food, water and cover in your backyard. You can imagine the amount of energy it takes to fly thousands of miles. These migratory birds need “rest stops” that provide them with the right food and water sources to continue their journey.

I remember sitting in my dining room one spring morning when I lived in northern Virginia and watching hundreds of orchard orioles descend on the two cherry trees in my backyard. I was astonished at the sheer numbers of them which I had never seen in the area before. Of course, there was no cherry pie for my husband’s June birthday that year but we were able to feel a part of the amazing phenomenon of bird migration.

Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Ornithologists – scientists who study birds – set up mist nests to capture birds during their migrations. This allows them to record the birds’ migration routes and describe their health status. They take measurements such as height, leg length, wingspan and plumage condition. The birds are then banded and released. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we will simulate these same activities around the park in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 14, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Young Guests can choose to be banded as they enter the park and become “honorary birds” for the day, migrating to the other banding stations to participate in fun activities:

  • Main Entrance (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.): Guests receive their bird band and a bookmark with the locations of the other banding sta­tions in the park.
  • Oasis (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.) What is your feather color?: Guests can have their plumage (clothing) recorded.
  • The Tree of Life (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.) What is your leg length?: Guests can have their leg length measured and recorded.
  • Asia (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.) What is your wing span?: Guests can have their arm length measured and recorded.
  • Africa (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.) What is your height?: Guests can have their height measured and recorded.
  • Conservation Station (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.) What bird call is that?: Guests can guess the bird that made each of three recorded calls.

Other Highlights:

  • Operation Migration (Rafiki’s Planet Watch) – Guests will have the chance to view the project’s plane and talk with representatives from Operation Migration – a program that supports the migration of whooping cranes. Operation Migration receives funds from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.
  • Guests can learn about purple martins (Rafiki’s Planet Watch) and how to attract them to their area while talking with our Disney’s Animal Kingdom bird experts.

Fortunately, migratory songbirds, unlike the migrating wildebeests, don’t have river crocodiles to contend with but they do face very fierce predators…domestic cats! Yes, our wonderful pet cats that are not kept indoors are causing the disappearance of huge numbers of both migratory and resident birds. You can help protect all native birds and other small wildlife by keeping your pet cat indoors. After all, cats are safer in your home away from speeding cars and disease.

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

May 25 – World Turtle Day
July 27 – International Year of the Forest Celebration
August – Cotton-top Tamarin Month Celebration
September 1 – International Vulture Awareness Day
October 26 – Year of the Bat Celebration

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Party for the Planet – including Africa’s Big Cats – on Earth Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on April 13th, 2011 by Kathy Lehnhardt, Curator of Education, Disney’s Animal Programs


Where were you on the first Earth Day? It sprouted as a grassroots event on college campuses and in local communities on April 22, 1970. Over 20 million people participated.

I remember the 70s. I sported John Lennon glasses, wore my hair long, straight and parted down the middle with frayed bell bottom jeans (of course) and listened to Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull and Joni Mitchell. Far out! But what I remember most about the 70s was my first safari trip to Africa. There I saw my first wild elephants, lions and cheetahs. This African experience inspired me to follow a career in conservation education and continue an affinity for the natural world.

A Lion at Disney's Animal Kingdom

African wildlife experiences inspire many people who are transformed by the beauty and close proximity to wild animals. How fitting then that this year’s Earth Day event at Disney’s Animal Kingdom integrates the new Disneynature film “African Cats” into our annual theme: Celebrate Earth Day with a Party for the Planet. Disney’s great storytellers reveal the real-life saga of a cheetah and lion family living on the African savanna. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we will bring this story to life by creating fun activities that feature lions, cheetahs and how researchers study them.

Inside Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, “Be a Big Cat Researcher” activities will focus on how scientists study big cats in the wild. Guests will:

  • Record lion and cheetah behaviors on an ethogram (if you don’t know what an ethogram is, come and find out!).
  • Help find solutions to conservation issues that affect lions and cheetahs.
  • Learn about GPS collars, camera traps and who shares the savanna with lions and cheetahs.
  • Hear cheetah and lion vocalizations as they communicate to other cats across the savanna.
  • Discover where the few remaining lions and cheetahs are found on the continent of Africa.

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund will showcase lion and cheetah projects that the fund supports in several African countries, and Animal Programs cast will share the many wildlife conservation projects that they are involved in throughout the world.

How do children learn to love lions, cheetahs and the rest of the natural world? By spending time outdoors. What are some great activities that get children outdoors enjoying nature? Visit our Earth Day activity station, Connecting Kids to Nature, to try gardening, camping, birding, tracking footprints and exploring the invertebrate world right in your backyard!

Party for the Planet at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Earth Day reminds us that we all share the same planet and protecting it is every person’s responsibility. With only 20,000 lions and 12,000 cheetahs remaining in the wild, they need our help. See the film “African Cats” in the first week and The Walt Disney Company will give $0.20 per ticket to the African Wildlife Foundation through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to protect big cats and the savanna. To find out more about Disney conservation efforts, visit www.disney.com/conservation.

Happy Earth Day!



Take a look back at other ways we’ve celebrated Earth Day at Disney Parks:

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Wildlife Wednesday: Making Toad Abodes and Other Ways to ‘Spring Forward’ to Help Amphibians

posted on March 2nd, 2011 by Kathy Lehnhardt, Curator of Education, Disney’s Animal Programs


Croak, rivet, peep, squeal, click, squeak, trill – if you open your window on a warm summer night, you’ll hear a cacophony of sounds. Many of these wonderful night sounds come from frogs as they seek mates. However, these familiar calls may disappear from your neighborhood, as well as worldwide, as amphibians face a global extinction crisis.

'Spring Forward' at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Amphibians are sensitive creatures that are affected by habitat loss due to urbanization, disease, pesticides, poor land management practices, fire suppression, introduced predators and possibly issues associated with global climate change. But once people are aware of these threats, they can initiate positive change in their local communities.

Guests Participate in Party for the Planet 2010 at Disney's Animal Kingdom

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we “spring forward” to celebrate the amazing amphibians a few days before we adjust our clocks forward for Daylight Saving time. Our Spring Forward event offers a variety of activities for guests to join in and learn more about frogs, toads and salamanders. All activities will take place on Wednesday, March 9, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This year, children and families will make toad abodes for their backyards, listen to frog calls, spring like a frog, examine amphibian adaptations and meet some cool amphibians and their keepers on the stage. They’ll also learn about conservation actions that they can do to help amphibians survive for the future. Here are a few:

  • Invite a bug-zapping amphibian into your backyard by placing an overturned pot as a home.
  • Use less chemical pesticides on your lawn to keep amphibians healthy.
  • Build a pond, plant native shrubs, and leave leaf litter and logs in your yard to create a habitat for frogs.
  • Plan a family outing to a local pond to hear different species of frogs sing their love songs to one another.
  • Find natural alternatives to household chemicals so these toxins don’t end up in amphibian habitats.
  • Take part in a local pond or stream clean-up to ensure that native amphibians will have a clean home.
  • Find books on frogs to discover why they sing loudly, hear well and stay up late.
  • Do a homework project and let your classmates know how important amphibians are to the environment.

Beyond their beautiful chorus, frogs also provide a free pest-control service. Frogs eat billions of harmful insects annually, including mosquitoes and their larvae. So let’s keep those summer nights filled with melodious singing and help protect frogs forever.

Visit http://www.izea.net/education/yearofthefrog.htm and http://www.amphibianark.org/ to learn more.

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

April 22 – Party for the Planet on Earth Day

May 14 – International Migratory Bird Day

May 25 – World Turtle Day

July 27 – International Year of the Forest Celebration

August – Cotton-top Tamarin Month Celebration

September 1 – International Vulture Awareness Day

October 26 – Year of the Bat Celebration

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Wildlife Wednesdays: Bringing Children and Wildlife Together

posted on February 23rd, 2011 by Kathy Lehnhardt, Curator of Education, Disney’s Animal Programs


“Come on over and try out a cool wildlife activity!”

This hook, used by our Education Presenter team, encourages families to stop by the Kids’ Discovery Clubs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We have six fun Club sites in each land of the Park for children 5-8 years old, but like most Disney activities, everyone in the family participates.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Brings Children and Wildlife Together

At each Club location, children try out different activities. They match dinosaur jaws to the correct skull, feel and guess items found in a fallen log, see like a bug, find animals in a backyard, look for animal clues, identify animal calls and introduce the important insects and spiders to guests at the Main Entrance.

The ultimate goal of this top Disney guest team is to share actions that guests can take to help wildlife and wild places. What can children do to help animals? Lots! Try creating a backyard habitat for local wildlife by hanging a bird house, filling a birdbath or planting trees as food sources and nesting sites. Some children enjoy doing homework projects on their favorite animal and then sharing what they learned with classmates. Others may like to join a river or beach clean-up to ensure clean and healthy habitats for wildlife or go on a neighborhood hike to observe wildlife in the area.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Brings Children and Wildlife Together

But other Disney’s Animal Programs teams join with the Presenter team to share great conservation messages about wildlife at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot and in our local Orlando community. In total, Animal Programs teams combined shared 4,746,271 conservation actions with guests in 2010 which is a 20% increase in interactions from the previous year. This number reflects a commitment to the Animal Programs mission statement of inspiring our guests to conservation action.

In today’s high-technology world, we’re trying to encourage children to go outdoors and explore nature. But the competition is tough…video games, computers and TV all compete for children’s time and attention.

Why is spending time outdoors important? Because we know that only if children spend time in nature can they learn to appreciate it and ultimately care enough to save the environment as adults. An interesting quote from the Richard Louv book, Last Child in the Woods, is from a 4th grader who says: “I like spending time indoors because that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” Although I’m not opposed to electrical outlets, nature and technology should have equal weight.

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