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Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrate and Learn More About Turtles at Rafiki’s Planet Watch and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Walt Disney World Resort

posted on May 20th, 2015 by Blair Witherington, Senior Sea Turtle Biologist


Tomorrow is World Turtle Day®! To celebrate, we’ll have activities to satisfy your curiosity and inspire conservation of these magnificent animals.

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At Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can try on a turtle shell, see how biologists find gopher tortoises in their underground burrows, learn how to best keep turtles as pets, attempt to untangle a plush sea turtle from fishing line using only your “flippers” and much more! At the Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, you’ll be able to step through a turtle-excluder device. TEDs are special devices fishermen use in a trawl net to allow turtles an escape route if they are accidentally caught. You can also play interactive games to learn about the threats turtles face, while our sea turtles swim behind you in our 5.7 million-gallon tank. At both locations, you will have opportunities to ask specialists about our turtles and what they need to survive.

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In honor of the holiday, we have an exclusive Disney Parks Blog update from our Conservation Team. Many of you may remember last year’s Tour de Turtles at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort during which we attached satellite transmitters to two female loggerhead sea turtles that came ashore at the resort to lay their eggs. Affectionately named Anna and Elsa after our favorite “Frozen” Arendelle royals, the two ladies have been travelling hundreds of miles since we watched them return to the sea last summer.

Anna, the smaller of the two, had healed scars on her shell from an old boat-propeller injury. Ever resilient, Anna was able to swim in the Tour de Turtles. Because each turtle in Tour de Turtles is connected to an issue that threatens sea turtles, Anna swam to raise awareness about the threat of light pollution. Bright beachfront lighting from buildings and streetlights can deter nesting females and draw hatchling turtles away from the ocean, which is very dangerous for them.

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With a crowd of well-wishers cheering her on, Anna crawled down the beach at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and back into the Atlantic Ocean. For about a week, Anna swam and drifted within Florida’s coastal waters and then headed south along the coast of eastern Florida. This means that the nest she made in late July was her last of the season. If Anna was like most loggerheads, this would have been her fifth nest!

Anna’s travels south took her to Key West, where she looped around the island and settled into a beautiful shallow seagrass pasture just north of the popular tourist destination. (Perhaps it reminded her of Arendelle?) Anna’s journey has totaled 661 miles!

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Elsa, the larger of the two female loggerheads, has a 40-inch long shell—that’s the height of an average 4-year old human! Elsa is swimming to raise awareness about the troubling amount of plastic debris in our oceans that many turtles mistake for food.

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After Elsa left Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, she drifted for a few weeks within Florida’s offshore waters and eventually headed south. Like Anna, Elsa also swam toward Key West, but soon found her own path. She turned south to cross the Florida current toward Cuba. The strong, Gulf Stream current must have diverted her to the east, which put her on course for the Cay Sal Bank, a rich area of shallow seagrass between the United States and Cuba. This is where Elsa stayed for several months, until just recently when she looped closer to Cuba and back toward Cay Sal. Elsa’s journey has totaled 1,929 miles! That’s the distance from Orlando to Nova Scotia!

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Want to learn more about turtles and our work to help conserve them? If you’re staying at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort this summer during nesting season, you can participate in a turtle night walk, during which you may see a female sea turtle lay her eggs on the beach! You can also check out our next Tour de Turtles event August 1 at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and don’t forget to celebrate turtles for World Turtle Day and every day at Rafiki’s Planet Watch and The Seas with Nemo & Friends!

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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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A Bright Future for Whooping Cranes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on May 9th, 2015 by Scott Tidmus, Zoological Manager, Walt Disney World Resort


Today is International Migratory Bird Day, and we are celebrating at Disney’s Animal Kingdom by honoring the hundreds of species of migratory birds that need our help. One of the greatest conservation efforts of our time made a significant impact at the event—the whooping crane. This majestic, larger-than-life crane has been successfully brought back from the brink of extinction.

As Erin Gallagher wrote earlier this week, whooping cranes migrate all the way from Canada to the southernmost parts of the United States and back every year.

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In 1860, there were about 1,400 cranes—an already troubling number. In 1941, however, numbers had dwindled to merely 15 birds. Hunting, the popularity of the feather trade and negative human impacts on their habitat hit the bird population hard.

In an effort to save this bird species, the Whooping Crane Recovery Team was established. However, with all the birds concentrated in one flock and inhabiting the same areas, the population was more susceptible to being wiped out entirely by disease, bad weather or negative human impacts. The future of the whooping crane depended on establishing additional, separated populations and thus the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was developed to raise another population of whooping cranes, centralized in the eastern United States.

Raising whooping cranes isn’t as simple as it may sound. The chicks rescued from the wild need to be taught to eat, forage, fly and even migrate. Scientists raise the birds from hatchlings and don white suits that cover their faces so the birds do not recognize them as humans and learn to rely on them for food once they are in the wild. The suits have a whooping crane puppet head on one arm that scientists peck at the ground to show young birds how to eat.

In 1994, Bill Lishman and Joe Duff pioneered the migratory initiative, “Operation Migration” in which they lead a group of Canada geese from Ontario to Virginia to prove that it was possible to train birds to follow a small plane called an ultra-light. This story may seem familiar because just one year later, both Lishman and Duff helped with production of the Columbia Pictures film, “Fly Away Home” that followed a similar plot line.

With the precedent set, in 1999, Operation Migration led the first group of whooping cranes on their migration route. The route of the secondary flock established in the eastern United States spans the country from Wisconsin to here in Florida. Once they fly their migration route first led by an ultra-light, they will remember the way for life. The Disney Conservation Fund was one of the first to support the organization and has continued to support this organization ever since.

Since 2006, Disney’s animal care team has performed health exams on all the young migratory birds to ensure they are in good condition following their migration. Our Animal, Science and Environment team has also assisted in monitoring and training of the new chicks in efforts to prepare them for their release into the wild.

While progress has been made with these cranes, they are still the most endangered crane in the world; fewer than 500 cranes exist today.

Every spring, for International Migratory Bird Day, Disney welcomes the crew from Operation Migration to share their experiences with our guests. Just three years ago, Disney was pleased to welcome a new addition to the exhibit at Conservation Station. Operation Migration donated one of their original ultra-lights and it has remained on display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, allowing us to share this inspiring story year round! For more information on whooping cranes and how you can help, check out the International Crane Foundation.

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Walk on the Wild Side of Disney’s Animal Kingdom with Backstage Tales

posted on May 7th, 2015 by Russ J. Stacey, Writer, Yellow Shoes Creative Group


Ever wanted to see what happens backstage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

Backstage Tales is an immersive experience that lets you do just that! Led by enthusiastic guides who pepper their presentations with lots of personality, history and anecdotes, this new tour gives you unprecedented access to the ways Disney studies, cares for and helps educate others about the fascinating residents of the park. Global conservation is also a big part of their message.

Literally a walk (and drive—transportation provided, of course—to certain experiences) in the park, this nearly-four-hour tour encourages questions and participation, and it seems like there’s a discovery to be made around every corner.

Our first stop (after Timmy, our lead guide, filled us in on the park’s history) was the aviary on Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Tim, the keeper there, was a virtual encyclopedia on all 240 birds of 20-plus species—like the snowy-headed robin-chat and African pygmy goose (which is actually a duck!). We even got to help during feeding time.

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From there, it was off to the black rhino and elephant barns, where we learned not only how they tend to these magnificent beasts’ needs, but also their behavioral traits (wallowing in clay to keep cool, protect against insects and help heal abrasions? Yup, that’s a favorite rhino pastime), breeding methods and what’s being done globally to protect them.

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Then we got to peek behind the proverbial curtain of the Animal Nutrition Center and kitchen, Animal Programs Administration building and state-of-the-art veterinary hospital. It gets you up close with the leading-edge methods the keepers, veterinarians, nutritionists and technicians use to care for the wild and woolly denizens of the park.

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“They participate in their own care” was a phrase we heard more than once. The animals “volunteer” for routine procedures like x-rays and blood collection through positive-reinforcement training to reduce their stress levels. And if, for example, a kangaroo is in no mood to participate? It’s free to walk away.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is such an amazing collection of over 1,500 animals representing 250 species in as close to their natural habitat as possible. And on this tour, you get to see the extraordinary attention paid to each creature’s well-being.

A portion of this not-to-be-missed tour proceeds supports the Disney Conservation Fund, so you can not only make an impact on global conservation, it’s also a great reminder of the world of wonders all around us.

Backstage Tales replaces the Backstage Safari tour, while upping the “wow” factor. It’s offered from 7:30–11:15 a.m. daily, available to guests ages 12 years and older. Theme Park admission is not included. For reservations, call 407-WDW-TOUR (939-8687). Experiences, content and animal encounters are subject to change.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on May 6th, 2015 by Erin Gallagher, Education Manager, Walt Disney World Resort


Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day with some feathered friends this Saturday at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Become an “honorary bird” and “migrate” around Rafiki’s Planet Watch as you discover how your wing span and feather color (that’s bird talk for arm length and clothes) matches up among nearly 350 species of wild birds. Learn about the great lengths we go to at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, with help from the Disney Conservation Fund, to care for not only the birds we have here, but for birds all over the world!

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Purple Martin Come to Walt Disney World Resort Every Year to Raise Their Young Whooping Cranes Migrate to Florida Every Year

For example, as you walk through the park, keep your eyes to the skies because you might just spot a purple martin. These tiny birds (weighing in at approximately two ounces) with purple, glossy feathers come to Walt Disney World Resort every year to enjoy some vacation time and raise their young. They enjoy world-class “resorts” (the birdhouses we provide) and indulge in the best food around. Purple martins are aerial insectivores, which means they eat flying insects they catch right out of the air!

In the eastern United States, purple martins rely exclusively on humans to build their birdhouses and prepare their sheltered nests, tucked away in what’s referred to as a “cavity.” Without birdhouses like those at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot and other locations around Walt Disney World Resort, the purple martins would simply have nowhere to nest. This is a unique phenomenon among all bird species and represents an incredible opportunity for people to engage in a direct conservation experience with these charismatic little songbirds!

When all their chicks have fledged, or grown the feathers necessary for flight, purple martins embark on an incredible migration down to the Brazilian Amazon. What’s truly amazing about this journey is that one purple martin can make the nearly 3,000-mile trek in fewer than three weeks! We want to understand where these birds spend their time, how they are affected by climate change and the factors that influence their choices along their migratory routes so we can better protect all the wild places they call home We also have many questions about purple martin nesting behavior, including how these birds raise their young and if pairs stay together both while they are here at Walt Disney World and also once they depart for Brazil.

How do we begin to answer these questions? The first step lies in a lightweight accessory called a geolocator. While the adult purple martins are here, we outfit each of them with a little backpack that they will wear for the next year. The geolocator backpack will gather location data for the bird during its migration to Brazil and during its return to Disney the following spring. The geolocators aren’t cumbersome for the birds, and the tracking data give us important information about their migration, including all the important migratory stop-overs (i.e. rest stops) the martins utilize during their journey.

Check out this quick video to see how our cast attaches the geolocators to the birds and release them into the wild!

We cannot wait to download the data from the birds that have returned to Disney’s Animal Kingdom this year!

Whooping cranes, a majestic, large bird have been through quite the roller coaster in their population numbers and are another species we will honor as part of our celebration of migratory birds.

Whooping cranes can grow up to 5 feet tall with a wing span of nearly 7 feet, making it the tallest bird in North America. They get their name from the resounding “whooping” sound they make that can be heard over several miles. In 1860, there were about 1,400 cranes—a pretty troubling number. In 1941 however, numbers dwindled to merely 15 birds! Hunting, feather trade and negative human impacts on their habitat hit the birds hard. The whooping crane was listed as an endangered species in 1967 and has held that status ever since.

Since then, several organizations, including the Disney Conservation Fund and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, have banded together to help increase the population size. One such program used is to raise these birds and teach them to migrate with the help of a special plane called an ultra-light. Operation Migration is the organization who coordinates this program and they work with the chicks from the day they hatch to their release into the wild. The birds travel from Wisconsin to Florida every year following this plane, which you can see for yourself at International Migratory Bird Day. You may even catch a glimpse or carry on a conversation with one of the original and current crane pilot Joe Duff, who first led the whooping cranes along their migratory path and have helped boost whooping crane numbers to just over 400 cranes!

Join us this Saturday, May 9, to learn more about purple martins, whooping cranes and more migratory birds that you may recognize from your own backyard! We hope to see you there! And stay tuned for more information about our conservation efforts with migratory birds!

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Top 5 Ways the Disneyland Resort Inspired Kids to be Champions of the Environment this Earth Month

posted on April 30th, 2015 by Kevin Rafferty, Jr., Communications Specialist, Disneyland Resort


As Earth Month comes to a close, here are the top five ways the Disneyland Resort connected children in Orange County, Calif., to nature and inspired them to be champions of the environment this Earth Month!

Beach Clean Up

  1. Disney VoluntEARS, kids and families collected more than 100 bags of trash at Huntington State Beach, an event organized by Inside the Outdoors Foundation (ITO). The Disneyland Resort sponsored ITO with a $20,000 donation to support ongoing environmental field trips for students and activities like the beach cleanup.
  2. The Disneyland Resort sponsored Anaheim Community Foundation’s Spring Fun and Eco-Fair at Anaheim’s Oak Canyon Nature Center, where kids and families learned ways to reuse, reduce and recycle. The $20,000 donation helped make possible a mobile eco-fair that visited 10 Anaheim parks, schools and neighborhoods.
  3. Disney VoluntEARS supported environmental awareness events including the country’s largest Children’s Water Education Festival that the Disneyland Resort helped present at the University of California, Irvine, and MUZEO’s TrashARTist Challenge featuring student art made mostly of recycled materials.
  4. Students from Costa Mesa High School’s Environmental & Marine Academy took an environmental tour of Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure park.
  5. The Disneyland Resort invited 140 children from eight Boys and Girls Clubs in Orange County to screen DisneyNature’sMonkey Kingdom” at AMC Theatres at the Downtown Disney District.
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Disneyland Resort Honored with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Food Recovery Challenge Award

posted on April 29th, 2015 by Kevin Rafferty, Jr., Communications Specialist, Disneyland Resort


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Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the Disneyland Resort with a 2014 Food Recovery Challenge Award for having the nation’s highest percentage increase of food recovery in the theme park category. Participants of the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, from businesses to universities, have greatly reduced wasted food in America, the most common material put into landfills.

The EPA’s recognition includes the following creative ways in which Disneyland Resort cast members preserve the environment. I am always encouraged to see how our cast members invest themselves in taking our environmental efforts to the next level!

  • More than 7 million pounds of food scraps diverted from landfill for processing into feed nutrients for animals.
  • More than 100,000 pounds of packaged food donated to local food banks last year.
  • Nearly 60,000 gallons of used cooking oil processed annually into biodiesel used to power the Disneyland Railroad and Mark Twain Riverboat.

The Disneyland Resort also was honored with California’s highest environmental honor earlier this year, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, for waste reduction efforts.

Over the last 10 years, the Disneyland Resort has doubled the amount of waste diverted from landfills with the long-term goal of achieving Zero Waste, a designation already awarded to Circle D Corral by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council, and the location where the Disneyland Resort accepted its Food Recovery Challenge Award!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrating World Veterinary Day at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

posted on April 29th, 2015 by Scott Terrell, DVM, DACVP, Animal Operations Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


World Veterinary Day promotes animal health, animal welfare and public health globally. Since its initiation in 2000, this day has been recognized on the last Saturday of April and provides a great opportunity to raise awareness about the amazing work veterinarians around the world do to protect and care for animals and people. At Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, we share these same goals, as our veterinary teams care for our diverse animal population.

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This year, World Veterinary Day fell on April 25.

If you ask me, I believe we have the most amazing animal-care team on the planet, but I may be biased. The most incredible thing about our vets and the team as a whole is that we make the extraordinary seem routine every day. We take care of every animal – from turtles and tigers to red river hogs and birds.

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You can see our world-class vets in action at Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You can watch live animal medical procedures and talk to the vets and animal keepers after the live procedures as well. Most procedures are scheduled before noon, so be sure to take the Wildlife Express Train to Conservation Station for this unique experience.

Did you know…?

  • Our veterinary staff cares for animals in many locations including: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, Tri-Circle D Ranch at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, and Castaway Cay.
  • The state-of-the-art veterinary facilities at Disney’s Animal Kingdom include an X-ray room, ultrasound equipment, surgical suites and full-service laboratories. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians use these tools to focus on preventative health and creating new methods to diagnose and treat animals, ranging in size from a two-gram poison dart frog to a 13,000-pound African elephant.

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Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Celebrate Earth Day Around the Globe

posted on April 22nd, 2015 by Molly McGranahan, Communications Specialist, WDPR


Happy Earth Day!

Here at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, we celebrate Earth Day every day. Across the globe, our cast members work together toward one unified goal: protecting our planet to promise a better tomorrow.

We invite you to take a unique look at what some of our environmental friends across Parks and Resorts are up to in support of planet earth:

Disneyland Resort
The Disneyland Resort took home three top prestigious environmental honors:

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Disneyland Paris
Protection of domestic bees is key at Disney’s Davy Crockett Ranch at Disneyland Paris. The bees are essential in continuing the quality of the resort’s flowers, trees and meadows, and the park’s landscaping provides what the bees need to produce top-quality honey. The mixed-flower honey that is produced finds its way to the breakfast table of guests at the Disneyland Hotel. How’s that for some Earth Day buzz?

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Hong Kong Disneyland Resort
At Hong Kong Disneyland, all plastic shopping bags from merchandise locations are made from post-consumer recycled plastics. Since launching in 2012, more than three million plastic bags generated from the resort’s daily operation have been diverted from landfill and reused for the production of merchandise bags.

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Shanghai Disney
As development for Shanghai Disney Resort progresses, a common thread throughout the resort’s growth is its commitment to sustainable building design. Various administrative buildings are being built with gearless elevators, automatic heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) and exterior stairwells to help minimize the impact of the resort operations on the environment.

Tokyo Disney Resort
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea utilize multi-waste waste containers. Unlike the standard waste bin, these multi-functional containers are made of several different deposit stations that separate solid from liquid waste and encourage recycling. A single container features combustible trash, plastic silverware, paper cups, beverage carriers and liquid waste stations. The bussing carts for Quick Service Food & Beverage cast members are set up in the same manner, further aligning the cast and guest environmental experience.

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Walt Disney World Resort
Each of the 25 Disney-owned and operated Walt Disney World Resort hotels participate in the Florida Green Lodging program. From distributing in-room materials printed on recycled paper to maintaining the HVAC in unoccupied guest rooms, our resort teams ensure their commitment to the environment comes through in their day-to-day actions.

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Stay tuned for more great environmental stories from Disney Parks and Resorts as we continue to celebrate our planet throughout the year.

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Join the ‘Party for the Planet’ Starting on Earth Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on April 20th, 2015 by Allyson Atkins, Education Manager, Disney's Animals, Science and Environment


Over the next few weeks, a visit to Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch should be a must-do on your itinerary.

After arriving in the land of Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, hop aboard the Wildlife Express Train to make your way to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Moments after disembarking from the train, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about exciting conservation efforts taking place around the world – some led by nonprofit organizations supported by the Disney Conservation Fund, and others supported by our own Disney’s Animal Programs researchers and educators.

Disney Parks Blog Exclusive: The fund recently opened a new gallery to showcase conservation programs implementing unique conservation solutions to address urgent threats facing today’s wildlife. If you’ve contributed to the Disney Conservation Fund, this is a great place to learn more about projects you have helped support, as well as ways our Disney cast members are leading conservation efforts around the world. On behalf of wildlife and wild places worldwide – thank you!

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On Wednesday, April 22, exclusive Earth Day activities will be offered during our “Party for the Planet” Earth Day celebration. You can participate in interactive activities, explore limited time merchandise offerings, and interact with animal and education experts from Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment and the Disney Conservation Fund team about conservation projects currently in progress.

This year’s “Party for the Planet” celebration includes two exclusive “research stations” at Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Main Entrance of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These research stations allow you to see behind-the-scenes footage from the newest Disneynature film, “Monkey Kingdom,” while exploring how technology is used to enhance conservation efforts. You will have the opportunity to get an up-close, hands-on look at the technology scientists use to learn about animals, as well as the valuable data that comes from special equipment called camera traps. Many of the tools showcased at these research stations were used throughout production of the newest Disneynature film, “Monkey Kingdom.” This limited time offering is in partnership with Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Conservation International.

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Thankfully, the “party” doesn’t stop after Earth Day. One of the best things about “Monkey Kingdom” is that for every ticket sold opening week (April 17-23, 2015), Disneynature will make a donation to Conservation International to help protect monkeys and other endangered species in their natural habitats! The Disneynature “Monkey Kingdom” research station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch will be open April 22 – May 20.

Rafiki’s Planet Watch has been one the best kept secrets at Disney’s Animal Kingdom … but hopefully not for long – we hope to see you soon!

Want to bring the fun of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disneynature “Monkey Kingdom” home? Download this free family activity packet for more information and fun activities for all ages.

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