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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: 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: A Shining Star for Disney’s Sea Turtles – Tinker Bell and Marina’s Hatchlings Are on Their Way

posted on October 7th, 2015 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs

Tinker Bell and Marina, our sea turtles who crawled out of the ocean to nest with only the starry skies to light their way, are now the proud moms of 137 hatchlings that just emerged from the sand near Disney’s Vero Beach Resort!

While waiting for their nests to hatch, we have been following Tink and Marina on their ocean adventures as they take part in the Tour de Turtles! In the time it took for the eggs to hatch, Tinker Bell and Marina have each swum around 1,000 miles and are enjoying a tasty buffet fit for turtles in the Bahamas and near Cuba! They will keep eating and swimming … and swimming and eating … until they are ready to return to lay more eggs in 2017!

Until she returns to nest again, Marina will continue to be our turtle ambassador, reminding us of how important it is to keep our beaches and oceans free of plastic debris that could be ingested by turtles. You can join us and do your part in helping keep beaches and waterways free of litter. All waterways lead to the ocean, so you can help sea turtles no matter where you live!

Our other turtle ambassador Tinker Bell has been spreading her pixie dust to remind us that sea turtles need dark beaches to successfully lay their eggs. When those little hatchlings emerge from the nest, they find their way to the ocean by following the brightest light they can see in the star-filled skies.

We were very happy to see those tiny turtle tracks from Tinker Bell’s and Marina’s nests heading straight to the ocean!

It will take 30 years for these tiny turtles to grow to adult size and return to Disney’s Vero Beach to start their own families! Until then, we will continue to protect the magic of nature by keeping our beaches and oceans safe for sea turtles!

Disney’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program is so important to us, and we are delighted when we are recognized for our accomplishments. Recently, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums presented us with the 2015 Significant Achievement in North American Conservation Award.

The North American Conservation Award recognizes outstanding achievement in habitat and species restoration that supports biodiversity conservation. From supporting sea turtle conservation efforts through the Disney Conservation Fund, to rehabilitation of sick and injured turtles, to on-the-ground field research and providing experiences to engage our guests with sea turtles, Disney is committed to the conservation of sea turtles and inspiring everyone to care about these amazing animals!

Stay on the lookout for upcoming posts, as the sea turtle nesting season is winding down. We will bring you a summary of how the turtles did this year at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney Conservation Fund Awards $3 Million in Grants

posted on September 30th, 2015 by Dr. Mark Penning, Director of Animal Operations, Disney Parks

One of my favorite things I get to do each year is help review conservation grant proposals for the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF). Every summer, I have a chance to work with my fellow cast members to provide needed funds to organizations from all over the world that help animals in the wild, inspire communities to preserve ecosystems and ensure our planet continues to thrive and provide for the amazing diversity of wildlife and communities who share it.


The grant review process is a lot of hard work, but it is very rewarding. This year 80 cast members served on one of six committees focused on reviewing conservation work taking place in different geographic areas. Reviewers include cast members from various parts of The Walt Disney Company with expertise in conservation research, education, animal care, communications, business and philanthropy. Each brings their own experiences, points of view and expertise that help us ensure funds are directed to projects that will have the greatest positive impact on endangered species and habitats. In less than four months, our team of reviewers collectively dedicated more than 2,100 hours of their own time to reviewing more than 300 proposals!

Serving on a review committee is a great opportunity for cast members to make a difference for the animals we are passionate about and inspire our guests to learn more about every day. Reviewers often share their awe at the astounding conservation work they read about, the exciting new approaches to solving conservation challenges and amazing stories of people truly dedicated to making the world a better place for communities and animals. Being a part of this process also helps cast members better understand the role The Walt Disney Company plays in conserving nature and connecting kids and families with nature all over the world.

It is especially rewarding when the group chooses to support a project I have been personally involved with – I was lucky enough to provide field or veterinary support to several of the projects in the past, and have visited many of the field sites where this amazing work is being done. We love seeing the Disney Conservation Fund supporting solid projects that our cast members have checked out in person.

This year, we are proud to share that nearly $3 million in grants from the DCF will benefit wildlife, habitats, and communities through 104 conservation projects! After 20 years of helping nonprofit organizations worldwide, we have officially surpassed $30 million in grants through the fund.

The DCF is supported by guests like you who make contributions at Disney’s Animal, The Seas with Nemo & Friends and The Land at Epcot, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club Resorts and select Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Your support truly makes a difference, and we value the opportunity to work together to protect wildlife each year. I personally would like to share my congratulations to all of this year’s grant recipients, our many cast members for their hard work and to you, our guests, for helping us to conserve nature for future generations.

For a complete list of the 2015 Disney Conservation Fund grant recipients, you can visit Learn even more about the incredible achievements we have reached together at The Disney Post.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney Team Travels Overseas for Conservation

posted on September 23rd, 2015 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs

Not long ago, Dr. Deidre Fontenot shared with us her passion for saving an endangered species of a bird native only to Guam, the Guam rail. Dr. Deidre and her team travelled to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam to continue their long-standing efforts to increase the islands’ population of endangered birds, including the Guam rail and another endangered bird, the Guam kingfisher.

The accidental introduction of a brown tree snake onto the island of Guam has decimated the island’s avifauna, which are those species of birds that live only in Guam. Several of those species have gone extinct, while more are on the brink. Brown tree snakes have no predator on the island, so they have reproduced in huge numbers and consumed nearly all the birds in Guam. During this visit, the Disney team helped relocate certain species of birds on one island to a nearby island where brown tree snakes don’t exist, to start a new population. We hope they will multiply and be less susceptible to extinction.

They documented their adventure with photos in the slideshow below.

While we may not have Guam rails or Guam kingfishers for you to see at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we soon hope to show you have another bird native to Guam— the Mariana fruit dove! You can look forward to seeing this dove in the aviary on Maharajah Jungle Trek. We hope the dove will be a conservation ambassador for its species and help tell the story of our work to save these magnificent animals. You can hear more about this story and many others as part of Backstage Tales, a behind-the-scenes tour of our animal care facilities, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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Wildlife Wednesday: The Magic of Disney Can Help Save Monkeys and Their Habitat

posted on September 9th, 2015 by Kim Sams, Director, Corporate Citizenship, Conservation Programs, The Walt Disney Company

Kim and Jane

The scene is surreal. I am standing amidst the ruins of a temple in Sri Lanka that dates back 1,000 years. In the lush green meadow at the base of one of the massive stone structures, small golden-colored macaque monkeys sit and pluck shoots of grass to enjoy as an afternoon snack. Just off to my left, Dr. Jane Goodall, a longtime friend of Disney and Disneynature ambassador, is standing next to Dr. Wolfgang Dittus watching young monkeys – just inches away – playing in the tree branches.

Dr. Dittus has been studying this troupe of old-world monkeys for 40 years, and he can attest that the drama of their family is reminiscent of a soap opera. Many of you got to know Maya, a young mother, and her baby Kip when Disneynature’s “Monkey Kingdom” swung into theaters last April.

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So while you may know all about Maya’s drama, did you know that by seeing the film in the first week of its release, you directly contributed to the conservation of monkeys like Maya and Kip? That’s because Disneynature gave a portion of each ticket sale to support conservation through the Disney Conservation Fund. And now when you buy the DVD or Blu-ray to enjoy at home, you’ll continue to support the efforts of Conservation International to protect forests that are home to monkeys (and lots of other animals) and provide clean drinking water to millions of people. The release also includes a behind the scenes look at the conservation project itself. The short is hosted by Dr. M Sanjayan, also a Disneynature Ambassador. It has been nominated for a Best Educational Program Award at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. You can also learn more about what Conservation International is doing here.

I was lucky to see Maya, Kip and the rest of their family in person (after nearly 24 hours traveling from Los Angeles!) and witness some of the magic that goes into creating a Disneynature film. Now you can invite these adorable monkeys into your home for even more fun – including a look behind the scenes at the film and the music video for “It’s Our World” by Jacquie Lee. And as you and your family enjoy the antics of this endearing troupe of macaques, you’ll know that there will be many future generations of monkeys like Maya and Kip because of the important conservation work supported by Disneynature through the Disney Conservation Fund.

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