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Discover the Real World Research Behind Walt Disney Animation Studios’ ‘Zootopia’ in a New Exhibit Coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on January 20th, 2016 by Shawn Slater, Communications Manager, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Creative Entertainment


In Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’ll soon be able to explore a new exhibit that delves into some of the behind-the-scenes research that went into the production of Disney’s upcoming comedic adventure “Zootopia.”

At Walt Disney Animation Studios, the journey in making every film begins with research. In order to create the rich and engaging modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia and its wide variety of animal inhabitants, the filmmakers spent 18 months studying animals and their habitats. Their very first stop was Disney’s Animal Kingdom in March 2014, where they worked closely with the park’s team of animal care professionals.

“Research is such an important part of every animated film we make at Disney, and for ‘Zootopia’ our research began at Disney’s Animal Kingdom to meet with some of the best animal experts in the world,” said Clark Spencer, the Oscar®-nominated producer of “Zootopia.” “Everything that we learned about animal behaviors, personalities and movement our artists incorporated into the world of ‘Zootopia,’ and to now be able to share those discoveries and influences with the guests at the park is truly a full circle moment.”

The ‘Zootopia’ exhibit opens January 29 inside Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Beginning this week, you can also catch our special sneak preview of scenes from “Zootopia,” giving you an advance look at several clips from the upcoming film. The sneak peek opens as part of the One Man’s Dream attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Thursday, January 21, and comes to the Bug’s Life Theater at Disney California Adventure park this Friday, January 22.

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia,” directed by Byron Howard (“Tangled,” “Bolt”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Simpsons”) and co-directed by Jared Bush (“Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero”), opens in theaters on March 4 in 3D.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Baby Marmoset Born at Rafiki’s Planet Watch!

posted on January 6th, 2016 by Dr. Mark Penning, Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


There’s a new, high-pitched call coming from Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and it’s creating excitement among our cast members and guests. You’ll be surprised to learn this loud call is coming from a tiny animal, weighing only a few ounces!

Please help us welcome a new Geoffrey’s marmoset baby! Two 3-year-old marmosets are the proud parents, and we are happy to tell you that they are demonstrating great parenting skills. You can often see the baby riding mom or dad’s back.

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Because the parents are keeping a close eye on the baby, we have been unable to identify whether the baby is a male or female. We are very comfortable with the level of parental care and are monitoring closely as we await the baby’s first neonatal check-up in a few weeks.

These marmosets are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP), program coordinated through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The SSP is meant to strengthen long-term species-survival efforts by helping AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums manage species’ genetic diversity through detailed records of individual animals.

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In the wild, marmosets face threats of habitat infringement and being hunted for the pet trade. Although they are cute and very small – adults weighing 6-12 ounces – they have social needs that are difficult, if not impossible, to meet in a human family setting, and should not be considered when choosing a domestic pet.

Marmosets are closely related to cotton-top tamarins, which you’ve probably read about in our Wildlife Wednesday series. Both monkeys have claws that help them gouge tree trunks and branches for tree sap, one of their favorite foods.

Learn more about some of the other animals you can visit at Walt Disney World Resort at DisneyAnimals.com.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Take a Peek at Some of the Baby Animals Born This Year

posted on December 30th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


What an amazing year it has been! Disney’s Animal Kingdom is seeing unprecedented growth – and I don’t mean the park expansion. I mean baby animals! We have enjoyed quite a baby boom at Disney’s Animal Kingdom during the last year. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Seas with Nemo & Friends have also seen a number of births.

Everyone loves to see baby animals, right? So, we thought we would close this year’s Wildlife Wednesday series with just a handful of the baby animals that joined our family this year.

Beginnings can be an exciting time, and I am embarking on one myself. I have decided to retire following an 18-year Disney career. It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to share with you these stories of conservation projects, education, the environment, science, nature and the animals that bring so much joy to our lives. It has been a privilege to work with the Disney company, and I am so proud of the work Disney does to care for animals here and around the world.

Mark Penning, Ph.D., someone you have heard from many times in this Wildlife Wednesday series, will lead the team in my place. I know his stories will continue to inspire and enlighten.

Thank you for your continued support of our goals and our dreams to make a real difference in the world.

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Disney Cruise Line Donates Used Cooking Oil to Help Power Fleet of Vehicles in Bahamas

posted on December 28th, 2015 by Rebecca Peddie, Manager, Public Affairs


Think that cooking oil is only good for making your favorite recipe? Think again! Cooking oil is actually a key ingredient for biodiesel fuel – a nontoxic biodegradable fuel that drastically reduces engine emissions in comparison to traditional petroleum diesel.

Disney Cruise Line Donates Used Cooking Oil

As part of our commitment to minimize waste whenever possible, Disney Cruise Line has donated more than 60,000 gallons of used cooking oil to Bahamas Waste Management since 2011 to help power their fleet of vehicles in Nassau.

Take a look at this video to learn more about this process.

Bahamas Waste collects the used cooking oil directly from Disney Cruise Line ships in Nassau and converts it into biodiesel fuel. Today, approximately 25 Bahamas Waste vehicles are fueled by biodiesel and the organization has future plans to expand to its entire fleet.

On a weekly basis, more than 1,000 gallons of used cooking oil are offloaded Disney Cruise Line ships and recycled in ports of call around the world.

Disney Cruise Line Donates Used Cooking Oil

The recycled oil program is just one of many environmental initiatives at Disney Cruise Line focused on utilizing new technologies, increasing fuel efficiency, minimizing waste and promoting conservation worldwide. We strive to instill positive environmental stewardship in our cast and crew members and seek to inspire others through programs that engage guests and the communities in our ports of call.

You can learn more about our environmental efforts here: DisneyCruiseLinePublicAffairs.com.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney Conservation Director’s Pioneering Work with Cotton-Top Tamarins Honored

posted on December 16th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


In this Wildlife Wednesday series, you have heard from our conservation director Anne Savage, Ph.D., about our commitment to conservation and the projects we lead globally to help save species from becoming extinct.

I am very proud to share with you that Anne just received an extremely prestigious award in the field of conservation. Anne has been named one of this year’s Lowell Thomas Awardees from The Explorers Club. This esteemed award “celebrates explorers who exhibit excellence and innovation in conservation, with emphasis on emerging techniques and technologies that meaningfully contribute to our knowledge of the world and how we protect it.”

Whether helping educate guests at Walt Disney World Resort or contributing to wildlife and habitat protection around the world, Anne has helped lead Disney’s bold environmental approach as conservation director for Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment.

Anne has been the recipient of past awards, but with this new honor, she joins a century’s old society of celebrated pioneers and legendary explorers, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and Sally Ride. Wow.

Anne is very deserving of this exceptional award. She has been integral in the protection of cotton-top tamarins, a critically endangered primate found only in the tropical forests of Colombia. She has worked with the Colombian conservation group Proyecto Tití (a Disney Conservation Fund grant recipient) to develop a comprehensive, long-term strategy to protect wild cotton-top tamarins – arguably one of the best and well-rounded conservation programs in the world.

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As part of this more than 25-year program, Anne and her team have helped inspire a national movement to save this small monkey. She her team have developed education and sustainable income-generating programs for the rural communities surrounding the tamarins’ forest habitat. Her team has been instrumental in establishing Aug. 15 as a Colombian national holiday known as “Day of the Cotton-Top.” And she has successfully worked with the government to establish protected areas that will help this species.

Have you seen the cotton-top tamarins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? They are about the size of a squirrel with a large poof of white hair on their heads. The next time you visit, be sure to visit them on Discovery Island and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. You can even have a Starbucks flat white beverage at Creature Comforts right next to their habitat on Discovery Island – for every purchase, a donation is made to the Disney Conservation Fund!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Painted Dogs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on December 9th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


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We introduced painted dogs to the Kilimanjaro Safaris savanna earlier this week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Everyone in Animals, Science and Environment is thrilled to have this unique species join the family.

The name “painted dog” originates from their scientific name Lycaon pictus, which means “painted wolf-like animal” in Greek and Latin. Painted dogs, also known as African wild dogs, are known for their large round ears (They look a lot like Mickey Mouse ears!) and multi-colored fur coats. Each individual dog has unique paint-like splotches on their coat that are similar in their distinctiveness to a human fingerprint. Most also have bushy white-tipped tails.

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Painted dogs are among the most endangered species in Africa. By introducing painted dogs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we hope to raise awareness of the species and the threats they face, including human-habitat infringement and illegal hunting. The Disney Conservation Fund has been supporting painted dog conservation work in the wild since 1996 and has given more than half a million dollars to support painted dog conservation and research organizations.

Painted dogs are fascinating in their social behaviors. They operate as a family unit with all members of the pack caring for each other. They will even share food with ailing members of their pack or nursing mothers. The entire pack cares for pups after they are born. Both males and females will stay back with them as “babysitters” during hunting excursions.

When you’re on the Kilimanjaro Safaris savanna, I hope you can catch one of their elaborate greeting ceremonies. Each dog tries to interact with every other dog in the pack each time they wake up or return to the pack. Their yips and squeals are vocalizations that are unique to each dog and help others identify them.

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The painted dogs and hyenas will share the same spot of the savanna, but at different times of the day and evening. As always, guests will experience a different safari every time they ride.
Learn more about some of the animals you can visit at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at DisneyAnimals.com.

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Wildlife Wednesday: ‘Star’ring Peach at Epcot

posted on December 2nd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Meet Peach, a red cushion sea star at The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot. The Animal Care team often finds this adventurous sea star striking yoga-like poses, climbing corals or scaling the acrylic windows. Although Peach is always on the go, she will definitely slow down when lunch is served.

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Sea stars feed by extending their stomachs outside their body. How cool is that? Their stomachs stretch outward to cover an item of food and then secrete fluids that dissolve their prey, so they can digest it. They can even pry open a clam shell just enough to squeeze their stomach inside to eat it!

Sea stars can survive in many different habitats, including coral reefs, rocky shores and sea grass. Coral reefs, in particular, are home to 25 percent of all ocean species, so they are critical for many species’ survival. Unfortunately, there are numerous threats to coral, including increases in ocean temperature, ocean acidification and disease. The Disney Conservation Fund has supported coral conservation work around the world, and we have developed our own unique coral-restoration project led by scientists at The Seas with Nemo & Friends and Disney Cruise Line.

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The next time you are visiting Crush at Turtle Talk or helping Marlin and Dory find Nemo, don’t forget to take time to explore the aquariums upstairs where you will find Peach. If you’re lucky, you may even catch her doing yoga or eating lunch!

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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 www.disney.com/conservation.

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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.

NANCY KANTER (EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING & GENERAL MANAGER, DISNEY JUNIOR), FORD RILEY (EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "THE LION GUARD"), DR. JILL MELLEN (EDUCATION AND SCIENCE DIRECTOR, DISNEY'S ANIMAL KINGDOM), EMILY HART (VP, ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING, DISNEY JUNIOR), TIMON

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.

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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 DisneyAnimals.com to learn more about some of the animals at the Walt Disney World Resort.

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