Halloween at Walt Disney World Resort

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.

Cotton-top Tamarin Exhibit at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Cotton-top Tamarin Exhibit at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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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Making a Greener Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom Park

posted on October 10th, 2014 by Russ J. Stacey, Writer, Yellow Shoes Creative Group


Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is one of the most anticipated events of the year here at the Disney Parks. It’s a guest favorite and loads of fun. But are you aware of all the eco-friendly efforts that go on behind the scenes?

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Lawrence Whiteside of Magic Kingdom Environmental/Recycling recently shared with the Disney Parks Blog what goes into this green endeavor and why they do it.

“For the last 13 years, the MK Recycle Team and its partners have committed to support our corporate goals and standards. I hope our actions provide a deeper knowledge and understanding of our environmental efforts, and to also inspire others to take action and make even more of a difference.”

Conservation at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is serious business. For instance, some of the initiatives during last year’s party included recycling 25,000 cardboard boxes and 500 pounds of shrink wrap, salvaging Craisin boxes to store over 3,000 pounds of scrap electronics and repurposing “Monsters University” cardboard boxes to help out with the Toys for Tots drive.

The due diligence of the MK Recycle Team during this event just keeps getting greener, according to Lawrence.

“Our environmental successes and stories are a rich part of our history and a key focus of our growth. We not only recycle on stage but, through a collaborative effort, recycling happens backstage to reduce waste and our carbon footprint.”

The Walt Disney Company has a longstanding tradition of corporate citizenship. From providing children’s environmental education programs to pledges to reduce energy and waste consumption on property, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party’s goals fall right in line with this environmental stewardship.

So, while you’re enjoying Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade, your favorite spooktacular Disney characters, the Happy HalloWishes fireworks spectacular and all the rest of the festivities, maybe you can take a moment to consider the concentrated effort put forth to giving back to Mother Earth.

Though he was speaking specifically of the U.S.A., Walt Disney’s words of wisdom could easily be applied to the big picture: “Its preservation and the wise conservation of its renewable resources concerns every man, woman and child whose possession it is.”

Lawrence echoes those sentiments. “Personally, I think everybody needs to play a role in preserving our planet,”

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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 Wednesday: Baby Sea Turtles Hatch from Anna & Elsa’s Nests at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort!

posted on October 1st, 2014 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


Three months ago, we shared the story of two loggerhead sea turtles that lumbered ashore under the cover of darkness to lay their eggs on the beach by Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. Lots of sea turtles nest like this elsewhere in Florida, but these two particular turtles are special. As you might have guessed, this was our first introduction to Anna and Elsa, our two loggerhead turtle princesses!

Anna and Elsa, Our Two Loggerhead Turtle Princesses Anna and Elsa, Our Two Loggerhead Turtle Princesses

Anna and Elsa made their debut the following morning at Olaf’s Beach Party as Disney’s Vero Beach Resort team hosted an annual Tour de Turtles event! After being outfitted with satellite transmitters so that researchers can continue to track their movements, Anna and Elsa ‘let it go’ and began their trek back to the ocean. Both turtles, along with the other turtle competitors in this year’s Tour de Turtles, are swimming to raise awareness about the threats that sea turtles face. Anna is raising awareness about artificial light pollution on nesting beaches, and Elsa is raising awareness about plastic debris littering our oceans. Is Anna following her big sister, Elsa, just as she did in Disney’s Frozen? Check out tourdeturtles.org to see where they are now!

A few months have passed since we bid farewell to Anna and Elsa as they began their migratory journey to their foraging grounds. Meanwhile, many sea turtle nests are scattered across the beach, quietly incubating under the surface of the sand. Loggerhead sea turtle nests contain an average of 115 ping pong ball sized eggs. (The photo below depicts a life size model shown at this year’s event.) Both Anna and Elsa’s nests hatched during the past week, and we are happy to report some great news!

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As the younger sister, Anna is a smaller turtle. Her nest had 72 eggs, 68 of which resulted in little hatchlings that successfully made it to the ocean. (The photo below shows Disney sea turtle biologists counting the eggshells after Anna’s nest hatched.) That means that 94% of Anna’s hatchlings were successful, just like their brave mother! (If we’re giving out letter grades, she gets an ‘A+’ for ‘Anna’ and the success of her hatchlings, of course.) Elsa, the big sister to Anna, produced a larger nest of 127 eggs, of which 115 hatched! Elsa even returned two weeks after Tour de Turtles to nest again on our beach, and that nest is still incubating. We’re thrilled that both Anna and Elsa’s nests were so successful. Please join us in wishing the little hatchlings the best of luck as they begin their first big adventure in the ‘big ol’ blue’!

Disney Sea Turtle Biologists Counting the Eggshells After Anna’s Nest Hatched Sea Turtle Hatchlings at Disney's Vero Beach Resort

On your next trip to the beach, you can help sea turtles like Anna and Elsa. Thousands of sea turtles accidentally swallow plastic debris that travels to the ocean through storm drains or flies from landfills, mistaking the small pieces for food. Pick up litter and you might save a turtle’s life!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Welcome a New Western Lowland Gorilla to Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on September 24th, 2014 by Rachel Daneault, Primate-Carnivore Zoological Manager


‘Ni kijana!’ is Swahili phrase that means ‘It’s a boy!’ This exciting exclamation was heard on September 3rd when we celebrated the arrival of a new baby in the gorilla family troop at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Our avid Disney Parks Blog readers might be thinking, “Didn’t you just announce a new gorilla baby?” Yes, we did! This is the second gorilla birth this year, and the fifth in the park’s history. The first gorilla birth at Disney’s Animal Kingdom occurred in 1997 before the park opened, the second baby arrived in 1999 and the third was born in 2010.
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Western lowland gorillas are born with dark brown to black hair, black skin, and brown or reddish hair on their head. Mature males of breeding age develop silver or gray coloring on their backs and are consequently known as “silverbacks.” Juvenile and young-adult male gorillas are called “blackbacks” because they have yet to develop the silver markings. The diet of Western lowland gorillas is very diverse, including over 200 distinct species of plants, mainly leaves, buds, shoots, roots, bark and fruit. In the tropical rainforests of western Africa where they live, termites and ants are also great snack options. Unfortunately, West African rainforests are shrinking due to human encroachment and land clearing connected to agriculture and other pressures. Coltan is a mineral used in the production of cell phones, and mining for this mineral makes habitats unsuitable for gorillas and other wildlife. Recycling old cell phones and other electronics is a great way to reduce the need for coltan mining and, in turn, help conserve these amazing animals and their habitat.

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All Western lowland gorilla babies born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom have been a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures long-term survival of species by helping AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums manage species’ genetic diversity through detailed records of individual animals. Western lowland gorillas are a critically endangered species that face threats that include disease and illegal bushmeat hunting in the wild. In addition to supporting the gorilla SSP, Disney also contributes to gorilla conservation through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF), which has provided more than $700,000 in conservation grants to 14 nonprofit organizations focused on research and conservation of Western lowland gorillas, cross-river gorillas, Grauer’s gorillas and mountain gorillas.
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While we celebrate and welcome the newest baby gorilla here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, remember that you can join us in taking action to help gorillas and other wildlife. Recycle old cell phones to protect gorillas’ habitats from mining, and visit Disney.com/conservation to learn more about Disney’s conservation efforts and discover new ways to support conservation near you!

If you missed the last gorilla baby announcement, click here to view the story and catch up on all the excitement!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebrates Elephants and Rhinos on September 23

posted on September 17th, 2014 by Erin Gallagher, Education Manager, Walt Disney World Resort


Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to over 1,800 animals who serve as ambassadors to their counterparts in the wild. Cast members work to educate guests through activities like Wilderness Explorers, exploration trails and attractions like Kilimanjaro Safaris. Helping protect wildlife and wild places is at the core of The Walt Disney Company and recognizing the intrinsic value of nature is a guiding principle of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Throughout the day, in locations across the park, conservation messages are shared and calls to action prompt guests to learn more about endangered species and ways to get involved even after returning home.

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Conservation Station is a great place to continue your adventure and learn about conservation efforts taking place at the park. Through informative hands-on exhibits and a viewable onsite research facility, Conservation Station invites you to uncover the mysteries of the wild—and to go behind the scenes of Disney’s efforts to promote conservation awareness.

For guests interested in elephants, rhinos, and conservation efforts for these great animals, September 23 will be a great day to visit as Conservation Station hosts Elephant and Rhino Day, a celebration dedicated to two beautiful, but endangered animal species. Education cast members will staff hands-on activities, the work of the Animal Nutrition Center will be highlighted and Animal Keepers from the Elephant, Savannahs, and Ituri Forest teams will be present to share information and answer questions related to the animal-care profession. Guests will also have the opportunity to speak with representatives from various conservation organizations including the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to learn more about opportunities to get involved.

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Let us know what you do to help conserve wildlife and wild places in your area!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) Announces 2014 Grant Recipients & Surpasses $25 Million Granted

posted on September 10th, 2014 by Kim Sams, Director, Corporate Citizenship, Conservation Programs, The Walt Disney Company


If you’ve recently enjoyed a Disney visit, you probably had the opportunity to support the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF). There are plenty of ways you may have contributed – adding a dollar to your purchase, picking up a sponsored pin or plush item, enjoying the Wild Africa Trek excursion at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or snorkeling at The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Every donation, big or small, adds up and is combined with support from Disney, which in turn has given all of us something amazing to celebrate.

Including the 141 grants being awarded this week, we have contributed more than $25 million dollars to study wildlife, protect habitats and develop community conservation and education programs across the globe and here in Florida.

This week, our office shared the good news with more than 100 nonprofit organizations who will divide $3.5 million dollars in 2014 conservation grants to support projects benefiting wildlife and habitats spanning five continents –from lions in Tanzania and elephants in China to giant armadillos in Brazil and monk seals in Hawaii. To see a list of all the 2014 DWCF grant recipients, visit www.disney.com/conservation.

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Today the world is losing species at up to 10,000 times the natural rate, which makes doing what we can to protect the wonder of nature more important than ever. Thank YOU for joining us as we work with experts to reverse the decline of threatened species around the globe and build the next generation of conservationists.

What inspires you to protect the planet?

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Programs Nutrition Team Prepares Hundreds of Meals Each Day

posted on September 3rd, 2014 by Eduardo Valdes, PhD., Animal Nutrition Operations Manager


In the early morning hours, while many of us are fast asleep, the Animal Nutrition Team is busy preparing and delivering balanced and individual diets for over 2,000 animals at Walt Disney World Resort.

The job of an animal nutritionist and the Nutrition Team is quite involved as they work to assess the diet of each animal based on various data including weight, physiological stage of the animal, food sensitivities, animal health and food options available to prepare the diets, among others. Every animal has a diet sheet, but diets might be adjusted and supplements (like vitamins to humans) are added depending on the specific needs of the animal.

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The Animal Nutrition Team works with partners around the world to continuously assess diet options and aid in research. The research data gathered at Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been used to help improve around 18 animal nutrition products regularly used by the zoo community today.

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Some of the research is actually helping conserve endangered animals like the Puerto Rican Crested Toad that can be found at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Nutrition data and best practices in caring for the parents and tadpoles are gathered and noted for future generations. Then, twice a year, tadpoles are sent back to Puerto Rico to be released and continue increasing numbers in the wild.

You can learn more about animal nutrition from a member of our team on your next visit to Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Welcome a Sumatran Tiger to Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on August 20th, 2014 by Jill Piltz, Zoological Manager-Primate and Carnivore Team


Sohni is a name of Hindi origin which means beautiful. This is certainly a fitting name for the newest tiger that can be seen at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, a self-guided walking tour set in the land of Asia.

The Maharajah Jungle Trek is home to many different species including komodo dragons, birds, bats and hoof-stock. Until very recently only one species of tiger could be found on this trail, but with Sohni’s arrival comes increased diversity in the form of a Sumatran tiger, a species that is only found in the wild on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. To help you identify the difference, remember that Sumatran tigers are the smallest of the tiger subspecies. Females weigh between 165 – 242 lbs. and males weigh between 220 – 310 lbs.

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Human population growth has dramatically reduced the tigers’ natural habitat. Sumatran tigers are critically endangered and it is estimated that there are fewer than 500 individuals left in the wild. You can help protect tigers and many other species by supporting conservation organizations through contributions or volunteering.
You can learn more about tigers including Sohni on your next visit, but until then here are a few tiger fun facts:

  • Tigers mark their territory with visual signals, such as scratches on a tree or on the ground, and chemical signals, such a spraying a tree with urine and scent gland secretions.
  • Tigers can be extremely swift for short distances, running 30 to 35 mph, and can leap impressive distances averaging 13 feet.
  • Tigers seem to enjoy water and can swim well. They use rivers and lakes to seek relief from the heat and to catch fish.
  • Tigers are carnivores and are the top predators in their ecosystem. A male tiger in the wild requires nearly 3 tons of food per year.
Wildlife Wednesday: One of These Is Not Like the Other – Welcome a Sumatran Tiger to Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Wildlife Wednesday: One of These Is Not Like the Other – Welcome a Sumatran Tiger to Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) supports local and global nonprofit organizations that address the planet’s most urgent conservation issues including tigers around the world. In spring 2013, the DWCF supported an emergency request to assist the rehabilitation of orphaned tiger cubs in Russia. For more information and an update on the tigers supported in this project, check out the video on IFAW’s website.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrating Shark Conservation for Shark Week

posted on August 13th, 2014 by Kim Sams, Director, Corporate Citizenship, Conservation Programs, The Walt Disney Company


Summer is usually the time of year that we hear a lot about sharks! Whether it’s a news segment showing aerial video of sharks swimming off popular Florida beaches or a week dedicated to celebrating these unique animals, sharks continue to inspire wonder and capture our imaginations.

Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrating Shark Conservation for Shark Week. Photo Credit: Neil Hammerschlag, R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, University of Miami Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrating Shark Conservation for Shark Week. Photo Credit: Neil Hammerschlag, R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, University of Miami

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) is committed to protecting sharks and the marine habitats where they live. Since 1995 the DWCF has:

  • Contributed more than $6.3 million to projects focused on conserving marine ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Supported 27 projects working to protect sharks and rays worldwide.
  • Funded organizations like Conservation International, Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Florida to advance shark conservation and engage communities in their protection.

Our team recently had the opportunity to visit one of the shark conservation projects the DWCF has supported since 2011 with the University of Miami’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program. This program is an outstanding example of the kind of projects funded through the DWCF’s annual conservation grant program. The research of University of Miami’s faculty, students and volunteers focuses on several shark species in the Atlantic Ocean and is both advancing our understanding and providing leverage to better protect these iconic animals. The program is also a fantastic example of inspiring the next generation of conservationists, and last year brought more than 1,000 students along on their research trips to learn about and participate in shark conservation first-hand! We are happy to debut a video of this great program and thank the many guests whose DWCF contributions have helped initiatives like these.

Interested in discovering more about sharks during your next visit to Walt Disney World Resort? Stop by The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot where you might find Blacknose, Sandbar and Sand Tiger sharks alongside several different types of rays. You can take a photo with Bruce from “Finding Nemo” and explore a maze filled with fun facts about sharks. You can also talk to educators to learn more about these animals, the threats they are facing and how you can be a shark conservationist through simple actions like contributing to the DWCF!

Happy Shark Week!

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