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Wildlife Wednesday: Scientists Provide Great Care for Animal Moms and Babies at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on May 13th, 2015 by Katie Leighty, Ph.D., Science Operations Manager


Giraffes, white rhinos, sable antelopes, gorillas and a red river hog were among the animals that celebrated their first Mother’s Day this past Sunday at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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The Science Operations team at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is hard at work helping provide great care for our animal moms and babies. Our team performs pregnancy tests almost every day for animals in the park and at the Lodge. We can predict the mother’s due date to help animal keepers prepare for the delivery, and in some species we can even determine whether the baby will be a girl or a boy!

Wildlife Wednesday: Scientists Provide Great Care for Animal Moms and Babies Wildlife Wednesday: Scientists Provide Great Care for Animal Moms and Babies

How do these tests work? By doing tests to measure an animal’s hormone levels. We share our findings with other scientists by publishing them in scholarly journals, and our endocrinologists mentor scientists here at Disney and advise others at zoos around the world on our techniques.

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You can see our scientists in action at the Science Center at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

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Did you know?

  • Endocrinologists at Disney’s Animal Kingdom perform 20,000 hormone tests each year!
  • Giraffe are 6 feet tall at birth.
  • White rhinos are pregnant for 17 months.
  • Newborn sable antelope are born with a light, sandy brown coat that will gradually darken as they mature.
  • A newborn gorilla is able to cling to its mother’s front with a very powerful grip from both its hands and feet.
  • Red river piglets “play possum” when they get scared. This means they pretend to be unconscious when approached by a potential predator.

Congratulations to our mothers here at Disney and all over the world!

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Wildlife Thursday: Animals Celebrated Valentine’s Day with Festive and Delicious Treats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on February 19th, 2015 by Katie Leighty, Ph.D., Science Operations Manager


Love was definitely in the air last weekend at the Walt Disney World Resort! While many of us spent quality time with the ones we love, our animal care teams did the same as they shared Valentine’s Day with the animals that call Disney’s Animal Kingdom home. The teams created unique holiday themed enrichment to highlight the animals’ natural behaviors.

Enrichment is a key part of the animal care program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It enables animals to make choices about their environment and encourages natural behaviors. Enrichment also allows guests to see the cool adaptations that help the animals survive!

We wanted to share just a few of the many creative enrichment ideas these folks came up with!

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch, our Rabbit Received a Special Strawberry and Oatmeal Valentine Treat. + This Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine Received a Special Delivery Valentine Heart Filled with Edible Treats. At Rafiki’s Planet Watch, our Rabbit Received a Special Strawberry and Oatmeal Valentine Treat. + This Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine Received a Special Delivery Valentine Heart Filled with Edible Treats.

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Did you know…?

  • You can enrich the lives of wildlife and encourage natural behaviors in your own backyard by adding a bird bath, native plants, log piles and bird houses. Then, sit back and enjoy the fun of watching the wildlife up close!
  • To learn more about Disney conservation efforts, visit www.disney.com/conservation!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Animals at Walt Disney World Enjoyed the Holiday Season with Festive Enrichment Gifts!

posted on January 7th, 2015 by Katie Leighty, Ph.D., Science Operations Manager


As many finish packing up the holiday décor (and others resist a few more days), we have one more holiday post to keep the joyous spirit alive.

If you’ve visited Walt Disney World Resort during the holidays, you know the festivities and holiday cheer are all around! But our guests and cast members aren’t the only ones who experienced the holiday spirit … Our animals did too! This holiday season, the Science Operations Team hosted a competition for the animal care teams at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Animal keepers were challenged to create inventive animal enrichment experiences highlighting specific holiday themes, including wreaths, snow, candy canes, presents, gingerbread and ornaments.

The teams then designed these themed holiday “gifts” for the animals under their care with the goals of highlighting some of their natural behaviors, introducing the holiday spirit, and providing unique viewing opportunities for our guests. We thought it would be fun to share a few of the many great ideas the animal care staff came up with — so here it goes!

This Asian-Small Clawed Otter Looks Like he’s Making Snow Balls Cotton-Top Tamarins Experienced Snow on the Rooftop of their Home As Well!

On Discovery Island, Asian-small clawed otters experienced all the fun of snow, a rare occurrence in sunny Florida. Nearby, Cotton-top tamarins experienced a snow-covered roof, icicle treats and a snowman at their home, also on Discovery Island.

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The Western lowland gorillas on Pangani Forest Exploration Trail gather goodies from a tire-swing wreath decorated with edible treats including fruit, vegetables and hay.

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Just around the corner, slender-tailed meerkats on Pangani Forest Exploration Trail seemed eager to explore an oversize wreath of their own. This one is made from grass flats and barley and decorated with pinecones.

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Guests who traveled to Conservation Station had the opportunity to decorate ornaments with conservation messages for the African elephants. The animal keepers then decorated trees with these fun edible creations and delivered them to all members of the elephant herd.

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Guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge had the opportunity to work with animal keepers to craft enrichment “presents” for the animals and then stayed to watch as the animals enjoyed their creations. This Roan antelope found a firehouse-cube “gift” complete with a leafy bow under their holiday tree. The tree was made from edible browse and decorated with vegetable ornaments to enjoy.

Did you know?

  • Enrichment is a key part of the animal care program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Enrichment allows animals to make choices about their environment and encourages natural behaviors. These initiatives enable guests to see the cool adaptations that help animals survive.
  • You can enrich the lives of wildlife and encourage natural behaviors in your own backyard by adding a bird bath, native plants, log piles and bird houses. Then, sit back and enjoy the fun of watching wildlife up close!
  • To learn more about Disney conservation efforts, please visit: www.disney.com/conservation.

Happy New Year!

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Wildlife Wednesday: 9 Intriguing Animals You Don’t Want to Miss at Walt Disney World Resort – No FastPass Required!

posted on December 17th, 2014 by Katie Leighty, Ph.D., Science Operations Manager


In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to rush through the day and miss the beauty all around you. In my role, I have the opportunity to work with hundreds of animals and I wanted to share just a few hidden gems. You might have to slow down a bit to find them, but I promise they will be worth a look on your next trip to Walt Disney World Resort. In no particular order:

1. & 2. Red kangaroos & Longnose Gar – Discovery Island Trails & Oasis, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Did you know animals could be found on your way into Disney’s Animal Kingdom? As you enter the park, adventure awaits around every corner, if you take the time to look for it. The longnose gar can be found on the path that crosses through the center of the Oasis just after you enter the park. The red kangaroos can be seen from vantage points at the front of the Tree of Life.

See the Red Kangaroos on Discovery Island Trails & Oasis at Disney’s Animal Kingdom See the Longnose Gar on Discovery Island Trails & Oasis at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

3. & 4. Ruppell’s griffon vulture & Nyala – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is more than a resort. It’s home to more than 200 animals including the Ruppell’s griffon vulture and mesmerizing Nyala. All guests are welcome to enjoy the animals at the resort and if you’re looking for lunch plans, up to 12 guests can Dine with Animal Specialists at Sanaa to learn more about all the animals on the savannah!

Visit Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Visit the Nyala at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

5. Argus Pheasant – Maharajah Jungle Trek, Asia, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The Maharajah Jungle Trek is home to more than tigers and bats. Don’t bypass the aviary on your next visit or you’ll miss the beautiful Argus pheasant.

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6. Eld’s deer – Maharajah Jungle Trek, Asia, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Eld’s deer are an endangered species that can also be found on the Maharajah Jungle Trek. On your next visit, take a look at their large floppy ears that can turn independently of one another. Those ears allow the Eld’s deer to hear predators from long distances.

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7. Shetland ponies – Tri-Circle-D Ranch, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort is home to plenty of outdoor activities from horseback rides to carriage rides, and even pony rides! The Shetland ponies are located just a few feet from Pioneer Hall at the Tri-Circle-D Farm. While you’re in the area, don’t miss the Draft Horse Barn where you can see a variety of breeds and see a display on the many horses in Disney history.

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8. Pineywoods cow – Affection Section, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Affection Section is a hidden gem in itself. Guests have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a few different animals and learn from animal experts and keepers. Pineywoods cattle are a critically endangered breed of “heritage” livestock, so pay this gal a visit. If you’re feeling really inspired, you can contribute to conservation efforts around the world through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

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9. Asian brown tortoise – Dinoland, U.S.A., Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Dinoland, U.S.A. is home to many animals (most are extinct). But it’s in a little island between The Boneyard and Restaurantosaurus that you can find the last animals on our list today. One side of the island is home to the American crocodile, but don’t forget to walk around and say hello to the Asian brown tortoises.

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Wildlife Wednesday: ‘Science rules!’ in the Newly Renovated and Renamed Science Center at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on November 19th, 2014 by Katie Leighty, Ph.D., Science Operations Manager


Science fans might recognize the quote in the title from the theme song of television show Bill Nye, the Science Guy. The popular educational show showcased science topics through interactive, applied science projects. Bill Nye, the Science Guy was for TV what the newly renovated Science Center is for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Like the show, applied science is exactly what Guests will have the opportunity to see and learn about as one of the many subjects showcased in the area.

You might be thinking, isn’t this WILDLIFE Wednesday? What does applied science have to do with wildlife?… Much more than you think!

Wildlife Wednesday: ‘Science rules!’ in the Newly Renovated and Renamed Science Center at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Wildlife Wednesday: ‘Science rules!’ in the Newly Renovated and Renamed Science Center at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The Science Center, previously known as the Wildlife Tracking Center, is home to the Science Operations team – a team of scientists and animal care professionals who partner with various teams within Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment, to provide outstanding care for the animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The new name reflects this as a location that is fun, interactive and inspiring, highlighting science using applied means, which is precisely what the Science Operations team is all about. Guests have the opportunity to view behavioral husbandry cast members coordinating animal training and enrichment programs, animal behavior scientists analyzing behavioral data, endocrinologists monitoring pregnancies and hormone cycles of animals within the park, and/or the population biologist working on animal management plans that help us determine which animals should be put together for breeding.

Wildlife Wednesday: ‘Science rules!’ in the Newly Renovated and Renamed Science Center at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Wildlife Wednesday: ‘Science rules!’ in the Newly Renovated and Renamed Science Center at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

You might be able to find Bill Nye, the Science Guy in a science classroom near you, but the science experts at Disney’s Animal Kingdom can be found working in their lab at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. We hope to see you soon!

Did you know that…?

  • Members of the Science Operations team have published dozens of scientific articles advancing the field of zoo animal care.
  • Since Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, endocrinologists in the Science Center have conducted over 100,000 hormone tests!
  • The behavioral husbandry cast members on the Science Operations team coordinate the training of animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as tiny as a mouse to as tall as a giraffe.
  • Not only are members of the Science Operations team working to take care of the animals here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but they also are working to promote the conservation of species in their natural habitats, including gorillas, Micronesian kingfishers, and coral reefs.
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Wildlife Wednesday: Myth Busters – When’s the Best Time to See Your Favorite Animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

posted on July 9th, 2014 by Katie Leighty, Ph.D., Science Operations Manager


It’s no secret that a highlight of visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the opportunity to see plenty of beautiful animals! Over the years, a commonly shared “tip” has been to get to the park early because animals are more likely to be seen in the morning. Our Science Operations Team set out to test that tip by recording animal visibility throughout the day.

Hypothesis (Myth): Animals are more likely to be seen in the morning.

Myth Busters – When’s the Best Time to See Your Favorite Animals Myth Busters – When’s the Best Time to See Your Favorite Animals

The researchers separated the park into five areas to include Kilimanjaro Safaris Ride, Discovery Island/Tree of Life, Oasis Gardens, Pangani Forest Trail, and Maharajah’s Jungle Trek. In these areas, they collect visibility data at several different times of the day on almost all of the animals including Giant Anteater, White Stork, Giraffe, Ostrich, Tiger, Elephant and Gorilla. The research team has been monitoring animal visibility in this fashion since the park opened in 1998 and they now have an amazing archive of information on how the animal viewing experience in the park has changed over the years.

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For this analysis, the team’s observational data were recorded and used to calculate an “average visibility” for each species at each time of day. These statistics were then compared to determine if there was in fact an increased chance of animal visibility at a certain time during the day. Analyses of data from the past several years all reveal the same finding…

Conclusion (and myth busted): Time of day does not significantly change the probability of spotting animals.

Translation — You can sleep in and still have a great, animal-filled day!

**On your next visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, be sure to pick up an Animal Guide to help you discover the animals in each area of the Park. You can even become a Wilderness Explorer by completing challenges and earning adventure badges throughout your day!

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