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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.

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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 tourdeturtles.org!

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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.

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‘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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“[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

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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

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“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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Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Wheels at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on July 22nd, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


In the past, I have shared with you many examples of the excellent care our team of professionals gives the animals you see at Walt Disney World Resort. We also help rehabilitate native wildlife, which includes birds, snakes, armadillos, manatees and more.

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Recently, we began caring for a native gopher tortoise. While we don’t know how he was injured, we believe he might have been hit by an automobile. Our veterinarians, veterinary technicians, hospital keepers, and wildlife interns have been working closely with this gopher tortoise during the past month.

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The tortoise sustained an injury to the back of his shell that also affected his back legs. After brainstorming different ideas to help him maneuver better, a suggestion was made about giving him wheels. But how?

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One of our veterinarians attached LEGO blocks with an animal-friendly epoxy resin reinforced with tape to the bottom of his shell. Within minutes, the tortoise we are now calling Wheels began walking across the hospital floor. It was a success!

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Hospital keepers Jennifer Holmes and Jen Hershey act as mentors to our Wildlife Hospital professional interns, Tori D’Amico and Brandon Waldron. They all continue to monitor Wheels to make sure he is comfortable and able to move around. The team expects Wheels to stay with them for a while as his health improves. Wheels’ wheels will be modified throughout his healing process to ensure the best fit. When the team feels confident that he is fully healed and able to be released into the wild, they will remove his wheels.

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The gopher tortoise is a protected species, native to the southeastern United States. These tortoises dig deep burrows that are sometimes filled in by land developments and construction. The gopher tortoise is also a keystone species because other animals, such as snakes and eastern indigos, also live in their burrows.

The next time you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Wheels at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in the on-stage procedure room!

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Disney Parks Blog Weekly Recap

posted on July 12th, 2015 by Thomas Smith, Editorial Content Director, Disney Parks


This week, we looked ahead to the holidays with a sneak peek at a few of the narrators for this year’s Candlelight Processional at Epcot as you begin to book dinner packages for the event.

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The Candlelight Processional is presented three times per night at the American Gardens Theater at Epcot. Show times are 5 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. from November 27 to December 30. This year’s narrator list includes Neil Patrick Harris and Whoopi Goldberg. Our updated list and more details on the dining packages can be found in our original story.

You can also reserve your Candlelight Dining Packages this weekend by calling (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463.

Loggerhead Turtle With Only 3 Fins on Coral Reef in Caribbean

We continued our popular Wildlife Wednesday series with a story from Disney’s Vero Beach Resort featuring turtles Tinker Bell and Marina. Both are part of The Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Tour de Turtles, the great turtle race that helps identify their migratory routes.

Disney Vacation Club members chose the names Tinker Bell and Marina for this year’s turtles, and guests at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort will meet them at Tour de Turtles on August 1. Starting at 7 a.m., guests can watch as we attach a satellite transmitter to the shells of the turtles so we can track their movements.

Check Anne’s original story for more details.

Here are some of the other stories we worked on this week.

A Look Back at ElecTRONica at Disney California Adventure Park – It’s been more than 30 years since Walt Disney Pictures released “TRON,” but it wasn’t that long ago that Disney California Adventure park guests stepped into the Grid themselves during the nighttime dance party, ElecTRONica. Let’s take a look back at this guest favorite.

Greetings Programs – Celebrating My Love of All Things ‘TRON’ – Disney Parks Blog author Steven Miller shares some of his prized possessions inspired by Disney’s “TRON”, and previews some Disney Infinity 3.0 figures coming later this year.

Every Role a Starring Role – Aviator at Soarin’ Over California at Disney California Adventure Park – As an Aviator at Soarin’ Over California, Ryan Adams has the unique role of preparing guests for an exhilarating flight through some of these iconic sights, sounds and smells of California — all within a few minutes!

Your Chance to Sip a Rare Wine at Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa – A state-of-the-art WineStation by Napa Technology is the newest “toy” for the sommeliers at the award-winning Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa at the Disneyland Resort.

Disneyland Resort Diamond Celebration Birthday Collection Coming Soon – On July 16, look for a special commemorative birthday collection to debut at select locations as part of the Disneyland Resort Diamond Celebration.

Celebrate Tanabata With New Beverages From Tokyo Dining in Epcot – See how Tanabata was honored at Japan Pavilion in Epcot this week, and plan a celebration with a loved one for your next visit!

#DisneySide Doodles: Rapunzel Takes a Carousel Spin – This week’s #DisneySide Doodle was created by artist Ty Amato and showcases Rapunzel and her good pal, Pascal, taking a ride on the carousel.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Tinker Bell and Marina Get Ready for The Great Sea Turtle Race! The 8th Annual Tour de Turtles Comes to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort

posted on July 8th, 2015 by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs


Summer is the time of year when sea turtles visit Disney’s Vero Beach Resort to lay their eggs on our sandy beaches. But where do the turtles go when they finish nesting? Do they remain offshore of our Florida beaches? Do they go to Cuba, the Bahamas or swim thousands of miles to South America? Get ready to follow our turtles that are part of The Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Tour de Turtles, the great turtle race that helps us understand their migratory routes!

Loggerhead Turtle With Only 3 Fins on Coral Reef in Caribbean

Sea turtles make an amazing journey from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds, where they will spend one to two years feeding before they return to Florida to lay their eggs again.

Disney Vacation Club members chose the names Tinker Bell and Marina for this year’s turtles, and guests at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort will meet them at Tour de Turtles August 1. Starting at 7 a.m., guests can watch as we attach a satellite transmitter to the shells of the turtles so we can track their movements.

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You can follow their ocean journey on TourdeTurtles.org. Will Tinker Bell win the race with a little help from her stash of pixie dust? Or will Marina, with her knowledge of the underwater world, use her experience to navigate the ocean currents all the way to the finish line? Will they join former Tour de Turtles participants Anna near the Florida Keys; Elsa and Carrie just north of Cuba; Peach, Pearl, Claire and Lumière in the Gulf Coast of Florida; or Lightning McQueen in the Bahamas? We will find out soon!

Did you know?

  • Each turtle swimming in the Tour de Turtles is an ambassador to raise awareness about a specific threat to sea turtles.
  • Because sea turtle hatchlings rely on natural starlight to find their way to the ocean, many are steered off course by artificial light sources. Remember, sea turtles dig the dark! Tinker Bell is the perfect fairy to share the importance of turning off your lights at night!
  • Sea turtles will often confuse their favorite foods with trash floating in the ocean. Tasty jellyfish look a lot like a plastic bag or a balloon floating in the ocean, so Marina will share her tips on to keep our oceans safe for sea turtles on TourdeTurtles.org!

Marina and Tinker Bell will be doing their part to help sea turtles, so let’s join them in keeping our oceans clean and free of litter and our beaches dark so that the turtles can safely return to water to begin their ocean journey! Do your part, recycle plastic, pick up trash wherever you live and remember, all waterways lead to the ocean!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Happy 21st Anniversary to ‘The Lion King’

posted on June 24th, 2015 by Scott Terrell, DVM, DACVP, Director of Animal & Science Operations, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts


Happy 21st Anniversary to “The Lion King”!

You loved the film, now see the real-life animal inspirations behind “The Lion King” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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You can check out our lions on the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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Visit our meerkats on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and warthogs on the Kilimanjaro Safaris both at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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See if you can spot the mandrills on the savanna on the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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Try to catch a peek at these majestic birds during the opening sequence of the film and at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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Next time you watch “The Lion King,” look out for all these animals in the “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” song sequence. You can see them here on the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Starbucks Opens, Flat White Lattes To Help Endangered Species

posted on June 19th, 2015 by Jennifer Fickley-Baker, Editorial Content Manager


Beginning today, guests can enjoy Starbucks beverages at Creature Comforts at Disney’s Animal Kingdom while supporting conservation efforts for the cotton-top tamarin – a critically endangered species of monkey that resides in South America.

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Starbucks Opens, Flat White Lattes To Help Endangered Species Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Starbucks Opens, Flat White Lattes To Help Endangered Species

The menu will include regular Starbucks coffee and espresso beverages, Frappuccino blended beverages, breakfast sandwiches and pastries, as well as treats crafted by Disney chefs. A portion of the sale of each Starbucks Flat White Latte at the reopened Creature Comforts will benefit conservation programs already underway to help preserve the cotton-top tamarin in Colombia. This drink was specifically selected from other menu choices because of the cotton-top tamarin’s fluffy white crests that appear on their heads.

Located on Discovery Island area of the park, Creature Comforts will reflect the theming of the park with African design elements such as geometric designs and carvings, warm colors, African maasai shield designs and hand-painted coffee beans.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Happy Father’s Day from The Seas with Nemo & Friends!

posted on June 17th, 2015 by Sara Green, Education Manager, Walt Disney World Resort


Happy Father’s Day from The Seas with Nemo & Friends!

As we look forward to Father’s Day weekend, here’s to one of the most rad dads in the ocean world–the seahorse! Did you know seahorses are one of the rare species in which the males give birth?

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While human moms carry their babies for up to 10 months, seahorse dads give birth after a pregnancy lasting up to four weeks. Don’t think they get off that easy though! Seahorse contractions can last up to 12 hours, similar to humans!

Unlike in the human world where the father’s work is just beginning when the baby is born, the male seahorse is let off babysitting duty after he gives birth. Baby seahorses go on their own to look for a new home in the seagrass beds and coral reefs and start their life independent of their parents.

Happy Father’s Day from The Seas with Nemo & Friends! Happy Father’s Day from The Seas with Nemo & Friends!

Seahorse homes are a vital part of our big blue world. Join us as we honor the dads who take time to teach their kids to preserve and conserve our oceans and don’t forget to see the seahorses at The Seas with Nemo & Friends!

Happy Father’s Day to human and animal dads alike!

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