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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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Wildlife Wednesday: Halloween Tales from Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on October 28th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Halloween is only a few days away, and I want to share some fun Halloween tales (and tails!) with you from Disney’s Animal Kingdom about the Malayan flying foxes, Okapis and Baobab trees.

True or False: Bats will suck your blood.

False! Malayan flying foxes, the fruit bats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will not suck your blood. Flying foxes enjoy fruits and vegetables, and the ones at Disney’s Animal Kingdom love watermelon, papaya and figs. Since flying foxes love these foods, they play a very important role as seed distributers in the wild. They’ll chew their food and spit out remaining seeds as they fly. This helps the eco-system by sometimes introducing plants to new locations.

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Bats also have a bad reputation for being blind, or having bad eyesight. This couldn’t be more wrong! Although some bats use echolocation, flying foxes don’t. Their eyesight is almost three times better than humans, and they can see in color.

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Originally from Southeast Asia, flying foxes face habitat destruction, hunting and are susceptible to extreme heat. They don’t have sweat glands, which means they need moisture, or water, to help cool themselves down.

True or False: Okapis are the ghosts of the forest.

True! Okapis are originally from the Congo and weren’t discovered until the 1900s. This is probably because they live solitary lives in very dense forests, and hence the ghost name. Living in the forest has also allowed okapis to develop amazing hearing that they rely on to listen for predators or movement.

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Most people assume that okapis are related to zebras because of the pattern on their behind, but they are actually the only relative of giraffe. This disruptive coloring evolved to mimic light coming through trees to better camouflage okapi from predators in the wild.

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Okapis are considered endangered because of its rapid population decline over the past two decades. They are hunted as bushmeat, face habitat loss and are ensnared in traps meant for other animals.

True or False: Baobab trees are dead, spooky and probably haunted.

False! Although the trees look like they are upside down, and possibly dead, they are very much alive. Baobab trees help support eco-systems by acting as a home and food for animals and food for humans. Baobabs can provide shelter for animals like snakes, bats and bees to name a few.

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Baobab trees have the ability to store large volumes of water, which is especially helpful during drought seasons. However, animals like elephants and eland often chew on the tree bark to hydrate. Unfortunately, this ultimately harms the trees.

Both animals and humans like to eat the Baobab fruit and seedpods. The fruit has twice as much calcium as milk, is high in anti-oxidants, iron and potassium, and has six times the vitamin C of an orange. The seeds also produce edible oil. In some parts of Africa, the baobab is called the “tree of life.” Sound familiar? The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is, in fact, a baobab tree.

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Baobabs suffer from being waterlogged, drought, black fungus and, as already mentioned, animals eating the bark. These as well as habitat invasion, hurt the baobabs and have motivated researchers to start studying the livelihood of the species.

Happy Halloween from everyone at Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment! What other animal tales have you heard? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Water Buffalo are a New Species at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on October 21st, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


We are proud to announce that three water buffalo have been introduced to the Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Rose, Dorothy and Blanche are enjoying the comfort of the grassy fields and brush, which they share with the blackbuck, Eld’s deer, Sarus cranes, ruddy shelducks and bar-headed geese. One of our cast members came up with the names for the trio, and they seem to fit pretty well so far.

The three girls have developed into a close-knit group and like to follow each other everywhere they go. Guests might see them laying in a triangle with their backs to each other as they get used to their new home. This sitting position allows all three of them to be watching each side of the group while they continue to get acclimated to the space. This is a behavior that a lot of hoofed animals will use in the wild to keep an eye out for predators.

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Cast members working with the water buffalo are excited for the new species. Keeper Amy Burgess has worked with many different animals in her career, and even a few species of cattle. However, she’s never worked with water buffalo before a few months ago.

“It’s always exciting to work with something new and different,” Amy said.

To benefit this species, we made some changes to the exhibit specifically for them. The area where the water buffalo spend their time now includes a pool because water buffalo have fewer sweat glands than other species. They need to have access to be able to – at least occasionally – either sit or wallow in the water.

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Domestic and wild water buffalo prefer habitats of grasslands, forests and rivers. Especially during dry seasons, water buffalo will often retreat to water to stay comfortable.

One of the greatest threats to water buffalo in the wild is a loss of habitat. This, pressure from over-hunting and interbreeding between wild and domestic buffalo has resulted in an almost 50 percent decrease in population during the past 10 years. That makes it even more important that we’re able to share these wonderful animals with our Guests. Anyone can make a donation to the Disney Conservation Fund at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other locations throughout Walt Disney World Resort.

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At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, cast members continue to bond with Rose, Dorothy and Blanche. It’s been helpful to have a number of keepers working with the water buffalo so that we can give the best care to our animals.

“That’s one of things I like about [working] here,” Amy said. “We have people from different zoos and people that have worked on different teams here, and they’ll give suggestions from what they did working somewhere else, or with a different animal … we have a lot of strengths to draw from.”

Visit DisneyAnimals.com to learn more about some of the other animals you can find at Walt Disney World Resort.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Team Effort Saves Taveta Golden Weaver

posted on October 14th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


Each week we share stories about the newest baby animals, updated conservation stories and new species being introduced to our animal areas around Walt Disney World Resort. This week, I want to tell you about the remarkable effort that saved one of our Taveta golden weavers, a bird native to Kenya and Tanzania.

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Late one evening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a Taveta golden weaver chick was attempting to fly when it was injured by a Hamerkop bird inside the aviary along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The young chick was in critical condition when a keeper brought the bird to the vet hospital at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The attack caused damage to the trachea, and the chick, who weighed only 15 grams, appeared to have a difficult time breathing.

“His trachea had basically started closing in on itself from all the inflammation so he couldn’t breathe,” said Veterinarian Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko. “The advantage of birds is that they also have air sacs in their body which help with flight, but are also an integral part of their respiratory system.”

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Dr. Natalie and a team of keepers and veterinarians knew they had to think fast to save the chick’s life. They thought of a minor procedure, usually performed on larger birds, that allows them to put a tube into a bird’s air sac so that the bird can breathe through the tube until the trachea is healed.

“We had to basically create a tube, so we took an IV catheter for a larger animal, snipped it, smoothed it, popped it in and sewed it in,” Dr. Natalie said. “Remarkably, it worked really, really well, and then we gave him medicine and supportive care. By the next day, his trachea had completely gone back to normal [so that] we were able to take the tube out. It was a really quick turn-around.”

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This is just one of the great examples of how our cast members work to take care of our animals every day. We can also use success stories like this to share knowledge with other animal-care facilities for future reference and use.

“A week or two later, the keepers said, ‘We can’t even tell which bird he is anymore!’ I had a lot of amazing technicians around me to keep the bird alive while we were trying to pull together what to do. It was just remarkable,” Dr. Natalie said.

Visit DisneyAnimals.com to learn about some of the animals you can find at Walt Disney World Resort.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted on September 30th, 2015 by Dr. Mark Penning, Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, 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.

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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 www.disney.com/conservation. 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


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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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