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Wildlife Wednesdays: Real-life Rafiki – a Baby Mandrill – Born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on June 15th, 2011 by Matt Hohne, Animal Operations Director, Disney’s Animal Programs

Mandrill Kelley and her Baby at Disney's Animal Kingdom (Photo by Gene Duncan)

After six and a half months of waiting, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is welcoming a “colorful” addition to its animal family. A male baby mandrill was born May 30 to first-time mother Kelley and is the third born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Mom and baby are doing very well.

Native to Africa, mandrills are among the largest species of monkey in the world and are considered endangered. They’re known for their bright coloration, furry head crests, manes and beards. Adults also have thick purple and blue ridges along their noses, red lips and golden beards. Fans of Disney’s animated movie “The Lion King” might recall Rafiki, who was not only a colorful character, but a mandrill as well.

So far, our primate team members are encouraged by the bonding between mother and infant. The baby spends most of his day nursing and sleeping, and the primate team has been closely observing Kelley and her baby to ensure that all continues to go well.

Barb Weber, one of our primate zoological managers, reports that the new mom is very relaxed but protective. The primate team is pleased that young female mandrill Scarlett has taken a keen interest in the newborn, noting that this is a great experience for her because she is learning from the baby’s mom how to be a good mom herself.

Mandrill Kelley and her Baby at Disney's Animal Kingdom (Photo by Gene Duncan)

The baby and mom are starting to make short forays into their habitat on the Kilimanjaro Safaris, joining other members of the mandrill group. In these photos, taken by Gene Duncan, baby and mom are in their backstage home.

With the new baby, the number of mandrills that make their home at Disney’s Animal Kingdom has grown to 12. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is part of a breeding program coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that is focused on sustaining the mandrill population. For more information on Disney conservation efforts, visit

Fun Facts:

  • Disney’s animal care experts do not separate mandrill moms from their babies to weigh them if all is going well after birth. Therefore, they don’t know exactly how much the baby weighs. Their guess: 2 pounds or less.
  • Preparations for motherhood began long before the baby mandrill was born. For example, primate keepers train future moms to pick up objects to simulate picking up their baby after it is born.
  • Adult female mandrills weigh an average of 30 pounds. Adult males are larger and average 60-100 pounds.
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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Tigers, Cheetahs and Lions Find Perfume ‘Paws-itively’ Appealing

posted on April 21st, 2011 by Matt Hohne, Animal Operations Director, Disney’s Animal Programs

Unless you work in animal care, you probably wouldn’t think cheap perfume and tigers are a likely match. But at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the scent of the wild can be found in hundreds of perfume bottles being recycled by Disney Parks cast members as part of their Earth Day activities.

Tigers at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Animal care professionals have long used unique aromas such as perfumes and spices as enrichment tools to help maintain an animal’s physical and mental health. Special treats such as toys, foods or fragrance prompt animals to explore, make choices and maintain a level of activity in their habitat similar to their natural behavior in the wild. With a very keen sense of smell, large cats such as tigers, cheetahs and lions like to scratch, roll and mark their own scents on logs sprayed with cologne.

Tigers at Disney's Animal Kingdom

In addition to “aromatherapy,” we provide lions, cheetahs and tigers with a variety of other enrichment items and activities to keep the cats interested in their environments.

  • Super tough plastic balls for chasing and swatting promotes physical activity.
  • Drilling a hole in the ball and stuffing it with hard-to-get treats increases the challenge and the excitement.
  • During the summer, frozen treats may contain meat to help the cats stay cool and encourage them to use their teeth, claws and ingenuity to get to the food inside.
  • A habitat complete with hills, tall grasses, shade trees, rocks, shrubs, fabricated termite mounds, dead trees, stumps and a sweeping view of the savanna provide opportunities to rest, communicate, interact, hide and explore.

Enrichment such as perfume is just one of the tools used to provide excellent care for our animals. We also rely on positive training methods that encourage animals to participate in their daily health care and challenge them to stay mentally active.

Cheetah at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Positive conditioning techniques train the animals to cooperate with their own medical care, which makes the vets’ work much easier and safer. For example, with a hand signal or verbal cue from a zoological manager, lions, cheetahs and tigers voluntarily open their mouths for dental exams or stand on a portable scale for routine weight checks. They also present their tails or paws during medical check-ups.

This attention to care is given to all of the more than 1,700 animals representing more than 250 species at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Guests can see lions and cheetahs on the savanna of Kilimanjaro Safaris while the tigers can be seen on the Maharajah Jungle Trek in the Asia section of the theme park.

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