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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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Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Malosi at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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

We want to introduce you to one of the tigers you may see along the winding trails of Maharajah Jungle Trek—Meet Malosi!


Malosi is our newest tiger at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While Malosi, a male Sumatran tiger, gets used to his new habitat, he may be exploring both onstage and backstage areas on Maharajah Jungle Trek. You may see this curious cat cooling off in the water or resting in the sun.

As you may remember when we introduced you to Sohni last year, Sumatran tigers are the smallest subspecies of tiger and are found only on the small island in Indonesia where this tiger gets its name. Males like Malosi stretch 6.5-to-nearly-8-feet long, and typically weigh only between 220 and 310 pounds. While this may seem like a big cat, the Sumatran tiger’s cousin, the Siberian tiger (or Amur tiger, as they are also known), weighs between 400 and 600 pounds!


When you visit Malosi, Sohni and the other tigers here, keep these fun facts in mind:

  • Malosi and other tigers can see about as well as humans during the day, but when the sun goes down, their vision is six times more powerful than ours.
  • Can you wiggle your ears? Tigers sure can. Their ears turn independently of each other and in an arc up to 180 degrees, allowing them to pick up sounds from all different directions.
  • You may know tigers are pretty good swimmers despite the reputation of their domesticated cousins—the house cat. Tigers spend a lot of time in the water and even use water as a tool in hunting. They have been seen fishing in rivers and lakes.

Human impact has dramatically decreased Sumatran tiger numbers in the wild. They are critically endangered, with as few as 500 tigers left in the wild. Conservation organizations like those supported by the Disney Conservation Fund are working hard to make a difference. You can help tigers by donating to the Disney Conservation Fund at select merchandise and food and beverage locations on your next visit and don’t forget to say “hi” to our feline friends on Maharajah Jungle Trek.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrate Primate Day, Baby Gorillas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on August 19th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks

Tomorrow, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will celebrate Primate Day with a variety of activities at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Guests can experience what a day is like for a cotton-top tamarin and learn how chimpanzees use tools they find in the wild to make their lives easier. Guests can even interact with the keepers who care for our primates at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

If you are in need of a coffee break, you can continue the celebration at Discovery Island. Purchasing the Starbucks Flat White Latte at Creature Comforts helps support conservation programs for the cotton-top tamarin with every cup (and not just on Primate Day!).

Don’t forget to swing by our other primate friends throughout the park. There are siamangs and white-cheeked gibbons in Asia, mandrills on Kilimanjaro Safaris, cotton-top tamarins on Discovery Island and more.


Celebrating Primate Day gives us a terrific opportunity to say happy birthday to our baby gorillas on Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The two youngsters are celebrating their first birthday, and to honor them, we thought we would look back at their first year of life.

Meet Cory. Cory is a master climber, and while he likes to stay close to his mother, Azizi, he spends lots of his free time exploring the tree tops and climbing in low-lying bamboo and vegetation. Before Cory was born, keepers used positive reinforcement training to help Azizi prepare for the responsibilities of motherhood. The team continued to work with Azizi on her parenting skills as Cory grew, and she blossomed into the gorilla mom we know today. Cory is now perfectly on track socially and intellectually, and he is thriving in his home.


This is Flint. Flint is independent and tends to venture far away from his mother, Kashata. He seems to enjoy following his dad, alpha male Gino. Flint also likes to play “airplane” with his older sister, Lilly. Lilly will prop Flint on her feet and “fly” him up and down. You will often see him display a “play face” when she does this. He opens his mouth slightly, showing his teeth and displaying what looks like a large, toothy smile.


Flint was born just a few weeks after Cory, and they love to wrestle and chase each other. They like to swing from bamboo and flip and climb on their toys and enrichment. They are both skilled foragers and like to taste all sorts of different foods—if the adults feel like sharing!

What does the future look like for these rambunctious little guys? They will continue to become more independent, exploring their habitat without their mothers and climbing even higher in the trees and bamboo around them. They will both begin to interact more with their dad Gino, and learn their social roles in the hierarchy of the group.

Visit Cory, Flint and their family on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail on your next visit and learn more about how Disney helps orphaned gorillas in Africa at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) at the Disney Conservation Fund website.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Captain Ron—a Sea-Turtle-Egg-Detection Dog!

posted on August 12th, 2015 by Blair Witherington, Senior Sea Turtle Biologist

I love to share inspiring conservation stories, and this is one of those! It’s a fun and engaging way that Disney’s Conservation Team is protecting sea turtles and spreading the word about their conservation.

You may have caught a glimpse of this cutie in our Tour de Turtles recap video last Wednesday. Meet Captain Ron, a 2-year-old pocket beagle who is full of energy and warmly greets everyone he meets. He’s not shy about jumping up to lick you, and if you’re like me, you’ll immediately fall in love with this little guy.


But he is not just cute and cuddly—Captain Ron has a greater purpose in life. He helps us protect sea turtles! Captain Ron has been specially trained to find eggs in fresh sea turtle nests. With his super-sensitive nose, he can sniff out the thin layer of clear mucus left on eggs buried in the beach. This detection skill helps us find eggs and mark nests so they can remain undisturbed on our beaches. We are so happy to have Captain Ron on our sea turtle conservation team! Sea turtle nests are vulnerable to many threats on the beach, and if we can’t detect the eggs, we can’t protect them from predators and disturbance.

To a person, a sea turtle nest looks like a big pile of sand on the beach. We can look at that sand to visually judge where a turtle has buried her eggs, but a dog can scan that same nest with his nose. A good nose can take in essential cues that remain even when the visual signs are obscured and cut egg-finding times from 30 minutes to about 30 seconds.

Pepe Peruyero, Captain Ron’s trainer, believes that Captain Ron really enjoys his work. Watching Captain Ron on the beach, we could not agree more! What a wonderful balance between conservation work and outreach for sea turtles! While he’s on the job, Captain Ron allows guests the unique experience of seeing conservation efforts up close. In the off season, he can work as an ambassador for conservation, serving as a bridge between people and the natural world we are striving so hard to protect. We will keep you updated if Captain Ron makes any appearances in the near future.

In the meantime, see Captain Ron in action in the video below! (Caution: prepare to have your heart stolen!)

*It requires a special permit to handle sea turtles and sea turtle eggs. Please don’t attempt to handle them without proper training and permission.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Tour de Turtles 2015: The Race is On!

posted on August 5th, 2015 by Blair Witherington, Senior Sea Turtle Biologist

We celebrated our eighth annual Tour de Turtles last Saturday with lots of enthusiastic Disney Vacation Club Members and guests at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. It was a huge hit! Excitement rose as researchers from Disney’s Animal Programs and the Sea Turtle Conservancy attached satellite transmitters to two loggerhead sea turtles, Tinker Bell and Marina. Cheers rang out later as the two conservation-marathon contestants crawled down the beach to begin their ocean journey.

The race is on!

While we were waiting for the sea turtles to start their migration marathon, guests took part in activities that helped them understand the many threats sea turtles face. Each turtle competitor in the Tour de Turtles is swimming to raise awareness for a specific threat that affects sea turtle populations. This year, Tinker Bell is raising awareness about light pollution on sea turtle nesting beaches. Little sea turtle hatchlings require starlight and moonlight to navigate to the ocean after hatching and can become disoriented in the presence of artificial light. Who would know better about using natural starlight to navigate than Tinker Bell, right? Our second turtle, Marina, is swimming to raise awareness about plastic debris in the world’s oceans. As a water fairy, she knows firsthand the benefits of keeping our oceans clean for all the creatures that live there!

The Tour de Turtles event is a favorite among guests and cast members alike because it allows them to connect with nature and learn how they can make a difference in sea turtle conservation efforts! And, the best part about Tour de Turtles is that the fun continues long after the turtles return to the sea! Because Tinker Bell and Marina, along with the other turtles in the race, were equipped with satellite transmitters, we can all follow them on their long trip back to their foraging waters. The satellite data also allow scientists from Disney’s Animal Programs and the Sea Turtle Conservancy to learn where our turtles are spending most of their time so that we can protect them long into the future.

Check out the slideshow and video for more sights and sounds, and don’t forget to track Tinker Bell and Marina on!

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Coral Reef Restoration Project at Castaway Cay

posted on July 23rd, 2015 by Rebecca Peddie, Manager, Public Affairs

Did you know there is a multi-year project to restore the coral reef in the Bahamian waters near Castaway Cay? Disney’s Animal Programs and Disney Cruise Line are working ensure these “rainforests of the sea” will thrive for generations to come. Watch this video to learn more about how Disney is doing research to protect the reef:

At Disney Cruise Line, efforts to share our environmental programs have become an integral part of our goal to inspire others to take environmental action in their everyday lives. For more information about coral reefs and the role they play in our underwater ecosystems, visit Disney Animals.

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Celebrating National Zoo Keeper Appreciation Week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on July 23rd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks

This week is National Zoo Keeper Appreciation Week, and we are celebrating our keepers and aquarists with special activities to recognize their hard work and dedication. If you are visiting this week, be sure to tell them hello and thank you!

I could not be prouder of our tremendously talented team of cast members, who continue to impress with their expertise and compassion. They have dedicated their lives to caring for animals, and everything they do and learn here helps contribute to saving animals in the wild. The difference they are making is immeasurable.

Below are just a few of our dedicated cast members. We asked them to tell us about their favorite moments and why they enjoy their roles.

‘In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.’ (by Baba Dioum) This quote is the definition of why I’m an animal keeper. My job is awesome because of the animals I get to work with, but my job also makes it possible for guests to learn about these animals and love them as much as I do.”
– Katie Lusnia


“I am very lucky that my favorite moment as an animal keeper happens every day. I love when my animals are excited to see me, even though they are more likely excited to see the food in my hands. I also love their quiet munching once they have all been fed and are happily in the barn.”
– Chelsea Lynn


“My favorite moments usually involve us being able to help out an animal that, in the wild, would not have survived. Most recently, we had a sand gazelle calf born with multiple issues. After a pretty rough few days and 24-hour care, this calf started to gain strength. After a couple weeks, she was basically fully recovered. Seeing your hard work result in the survival of animal, especially a young animal, is pretty awesome.“
– Matthew McHarness


“We are involved in daily training, enrichment programs, assisting the veterinarians during procedures, sharing our knowledge with the guests as well as making memories for them during their visit.”
– Kelly Savage


“I enjoy the interaction and observation of the many different species … I also find it very interesting working with the veterinary staff performing health assessments on many different species of animals.”
– Chad Spicer


“I feel like we make a difference in the lives of the animals that we take care of. We form a relationship with every single animal that we take care of and that is very rewarding. Also, baby animals are super cute.”
– Danielle Boggs


“After having helped with the endocrine research and care of the mother for more than two years, witnessing the birth of a giraffe calf was incredibly rewarding to me.”
– Gretchen Mueller


“[I have] access to the best and most-advanced facilities for the care and development of the animals who roam our savannas. The animals … are truly the driving inspiration in what makes Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge a premiere resort… Being able to work with the Disney Conservation Fund is also a reward that may go unnoticed by some, but the keepers at Disney know that we are both igniting a passion in future generations and doing our best to preserve the natural wonders and animals better than anyone else.”
– Ashley Roth


I enjoy being an aquarist because I have always been captivated by the ocean and everything that can be found in it … I also strive to provide educational moments for our guests so that they can learn about and respect our oceans, and hopefully help make changes that can benefit all of our planet’s ecosystems.
– Eric Grunthaner


“When I first started, it was so cool to see the amazing relationships keepers have with their animals … The animals recognize me now and come over to say ‘Hi.’ That’s a favorite moment every day.”
– Erin O’Neill

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