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Helping Hands Helping Nature with The Walt Disney Company

posted on April 11th, 2015 by Russ J. Stacey, Writer, Yellow Shoes Creative Group


Earth Month is a special time for all of us at Disney—and even around the world—as we are reminded of how we can join together and care for the world we share. At the Company, one of the ways we protect wildlife and wild places is through the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF).

Established in 1995 on Earth Day, the Disney Conservation Fund’s mission is to protect the planet and connect kids with nature. It supports nonprofits that conserve wildlife, engage communities in conservation and connect kids with nature. The fund has provided $27 million in guest dollars and corporate support for conservation projects in 114 countries and connected more than 12 million kids with nature.

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Helping families connect with nature through sponsoring NatureRocks.org, saving the Central American river turtle and working to reduce human-wildlife conflicts are just a few of the projects the fund supports.

Every dollar you donate to the fund is matched by The Walt Disney Company and goes directly to nonprofit organizations. A portion of the Wild Africa Trek tour admission fee in Disney’s Animal Kingdom also supports the fund.

A Priceless Encounter in a Theme Park

You can witness wildlife conservation here at Walt Disney World Resort. Dr. Anne Savage, Conservation Director, Disney’s Animals, Science & Environment (ASE), and James Mejeur, Zoological Manager, spearhead a special project. Though ASE funds their own projects, they’re partnering with the Purple Martin Conservation Association (which has received grants from the Disney Conservation Fund) and scientists from York University as they help save the purple martin, the largest member of the swallow family. Starting with only six pairs of breeding birds at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there are now 120 pairs of birds and 240 total purple martins that return across property annually.

“One of the things I ask people,” Dr. Savage said, “is, ‘Have you ever been to the Amazon Rainforest?’ No? Well, these birds have.” The birds migrate from Brazil by early January to nest and raise their chicks here on property. Once the chicks are ready, they all make the 3,000-mile journey back to South America in June and July.

It’s a great way to involve guests, as I recently observed at the Purple Martin Garden in Epcot. Every Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. during the breeding season, Lauren Moscar, Conservation Programs Technician, checks on 50 nest compartments.

The impact on the guests is obvious as they gather around to watch Lauren. She even shows them the nests and any eggs. On this day, there were quite a few youngsters obviously transfixed by what Lauren was sharing with them.

“I love talking to the guests and answering their questions,” Lauren told me. “It’s what it’s all about.”

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Celebrate Earth Day at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

posted on April 8th, 2015 by Victoria Lim, Managing Editor, Walt Disney World Public Relations


The natural beauty of Mother Nature + Disney magic = a perfect place to celebrate Earth Day. Of course, you can find it at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival: Gardener's Palette

We think Earth deserves a whole (extended) weekend! We’ve got lots of ways to appreciate and celebrate with activities, discoveries and more.

Here’s are some fresh ways to get your green on, from April 17-22:

Three of our new specialty gardens connect families and kids with nature: Nature Rocks, presented by The Nature Conservancy, the Backyard Habitat presented by the National Wildlife Federation and the Purple Martins presented by Audubon Florida. These lush spots will inspire you and your family to spend more time outdoors, and maybe even how to bring a little Disney magic to your home.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Specialists will visit the Festival Center (April 17-19).

At the Seas with Nemo & Friends, learn about conservation efforts to protect coral reefs, sea turtles, sharks and the many other amazing creatures that inhabit our oceans (April 22).

Check out the sand sculpture that showcases Disneynature’s “Monkey Kingdom” movie at the World Showcase Outpost. Make sure to pick up a kids activity booklet while you’re taking a sand-selfie!

For more information about this and other Fun Fresh Weekends, check out EpcotInSpring.com.

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebrates Upcoming ‘Monkey Kingdom’ Film with Giant Sand Sculpture

posted on April 1st, 2015 by Jennifer Fickley-Baker, Social Media Manager


Have you been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom this week? If so, you may have noticed a special new addition at the front of the park – a giant sand sculpture that celebrates the upcoming opening of the Disneynature’sMonkey Kingdom.”

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebrates Upcoming ‘Monkey Kingdom’ Film with Giant Sand Sculpture

The film, which opens April 17, follows the adventurous life of Maya, a blonde-bobbed monkey, and her son Kip, through their journeys in the jungles of South Asia. When their home at Castle Rock is taken over by neighboring monkeys, Maya’s entire family retreats. She uses her street smarts to uncover untapped resources amidst her strange new surroundings. Ultimately, they will all have to work together to reclaim their home.

Our cameras were on-hand to capture the creation of this amazing sand tribute. Check it out below.

For every “Monkey Kingdom” movie 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.

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Name Revealed for Baby Rhino at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on March 30th, 2015 by Karen Jasmin, Zoological Manager, Disney's Animal Kingdom


Just a few weeks ago, we asked you, the Disney Parks Blog readers, to help us name the newest female baby rhino at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You spread the message far and wide and over the past week thousands of votes poured in.

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While my vote was for ‘Alora’, I’m excited to announce that the winning name is Kiama! It was the overwhelming majority with more than half of the votes.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts in the comments section. Some of you shared that you were excited to hear about our conservation work with rhinos and other species around the world. We also learned that many from the city of Kiama in New South Wales, Australia, were excited to see the name of their town as an option. (While I’ve never been to this city in person, after looking at a few photos online, I’d love to visit).

This precious girl will continue to bond and grow with her mom backstage for a few more months, but stay tuned to the Disney Parks Blog for updates and more information as we near her on-stage debut.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care

posted on March 25th, 2015 by Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks


I am honored to announce that Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge were granted official accreditation once again by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The AZA accredits only those zoos and aquariums that meet the highest standards in animal management and care. Late last year, we hosted an AZA inspection team who assessed everything from the enrichment our animals receive (that stimulates their natural behaviors and provides them variety in their daily routines), to our veterinary program, our conservation and research and education programs, as well as our safety policies and procedures, security, physical facilities, guest services and the experience and quality of our staff. They look at everything from each part of the operation not only in animal care but from food and beverage to merchandise. It’s quite the process!

Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care

After this review, the AZA Accreditation Commission deliberated and shared their decision to accredit Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge this past Sunday.

Being accredited allows us to create and continue to nurture our relationships with other accredited organizations to work toward a common goal of conservation and saving species.

Here are some of the wonderful and humbling comments AZA left with us:

  • “The level and commitment to animal care sets the gold standard for our community. Veterinary, nutrition, training, browse program and enrichment programs are state of the art.”
Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge are Committed 'Gold Standard' Care Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge are Committed 'Gold Standard' Care
  • “The keeper staff is professional, passionate and engaged.”
  • “Overall safety culture is extraordinarily strong across the organization, and staff training exceeds all expectations.”
  • “Disney’s Animal Kingdom staff has been successful in making conservation a key value of The Walt Disney Company. The current positive impact and future potential of this change cannot be overstated.”
  • “New interpretive programs, including Wilderness [Explorers] and Wild Africa Trek, add both breadth and depth to program offerings.”
Wilderness Explorers at Disney's Animal Kingdom Wilderness Explorers at Disney's Animal Kingdom

They also recognized the amazing amount of work going on with our upcoming expansion and praised our efforts to maintain a strong focus on animals, nature and conservation at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Renewing our accreditation also speaks to the importance we place on connecting kids and nature. Both the park and resort provide a quality experience to learn about animal and conservation in a fun, engaging environment.

Congratulations to the Cast of Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge once again.

Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care Wildlife Wednesday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Set ‘Gold Standard’ for Animal Care
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Special Edition Wildlife Friday: Vote to Name a New Baby Rhino Girl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

posted on March 20th, 2015 by Karen Jasmin, Zoological Manager, Disney's Animal Kingdom


Just a few weeks ago, as the sun started to rise on a cool day in late February, Disney’s Animal Kingdom welcomed its second white rhino calf of 2015 into the herd! This one’s a girl and it’s the tenth white rhino baby to be born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

Special Edition Wildlife Friday: Vote to Name a New Baby Rhino Girl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Special Edition Wildlife Friday: Vote to Name a New Baby Rhino Girl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

As we welcome this newest baby and work to deliver uncompromising excellence in animal care for the animals here at the park and across The Walt Disney Company, we haven’t forgotten about their relatives in the wild. Last year, rhinos faced the worst poaching in history, so we continue to support conservation efforts for this and many other vulnerable species around the world. Much long term work to save this species is needed in the wild, but it’s important to celebrate small victories and our animal care team definitely has much to celebrate with seemingly back-to-back white rhino calves born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom this year.

While our newest mom and calf won’t make their debut out on the savannas of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve for a couple of months, our newest calf needs a name and this time the choice is yours! The animal care team narrowed it down to four options, so please help us choose which name you like best for her.

Take a look at the heart-warming pictures in the photo gallery and choose your favorite name below. Be sure to rally your friends to make sure your favorite name wins!


Voting will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, March 26. We’ll reveal the winning name soon after that!

Tell us which name you voted for and why in the comments below.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Disney Making a Difference – Rehabilitation and Release Success with Guam Rails

posted on March 4th, 2015 by Deidre Fontenot, DVM, Animal Health Operations Manager, Walt Disney World Resort


For over fifteen years, I, along with other members of Disney’s Animal Care team have been lending a helping hand on the beautiful pacific islands of the Marianas to save multiple species including the Guam rail. Native to this small island in the South Pacific, the Guam rail is a flightless, cocoa-colored bird with a striped underbelly that is extinct in the wild due to the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake onto the island. Since the Guam rail makes its nest on the ground, the snake can easily get to the birds’ eggs and chicks, causing the decline of the population in the wild.

Dr. Deidre with a Guam Rail A Guam Rail in the Wild

Thanks to efforts of institutions across the country that are accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), conservation work to increase Guam rail populations so that they can be released into the wild has been very successful. For years, Disney’s Animal Care team has sent veterinarians and animal care specialists to Guam to assist with the health care of this endangered species. We perform medical evaluations on the birds currently in Guam to make sure they are healthy prior to their introduction into the wild. We have had the honor of participating in the release of these birds on the neighboring island of Rota, where the brown tree snake has no presence. If any birds require serious medical care, they are flown to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for evaluation and surgery if needed. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we provide health evaluations to birds that are hatched at any AZA institution before these birds are flow to Guam for their participation in the re-introduction program, as part of a breeding population at a snake protected facility or as a part of the release populations on Rota. Disney’s Animal Care team typically spends two to three months with each bird while completing extensive health evaluations to make sure the birds are not only fit to travel back to Guam, but are ready to be released into the wild.

A Guam Rail Being Examined Before Release Into the Wild A Guam Rail Posing with Safari Mickey

Our efforts don’t stop there! The Disney team also provides continuous education and training to the island biologists regarding medical care of the birds and we donate veterinary supplies every visit. In hopes of extending the conservation of this species into the next generation, we also share information with local community children to help them learn about these unique birds and better understand why Disney cares about protecting them.

Thanks to the efforts of many in Guam, U.S. zoos and our teams here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Guam rails have been brought back from the brink of extinction!

While we hope Guam rails are most often found on their native island home, guests have the chance to learn about this and other rehabilitation successes of Disney’s Animal Care teams in Backstage Tales, the newest premium experience at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! Call 407-WDW-TOUR for additional details.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Celebrate Animals and Nature throughout the Year at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Epcot

posted on February 25th, 2015 by Allyson Atkins, Education Manager, Disney's Animals, Science and Environment


In addition to celebrating with us as at our Spring Forward event, don’t forget to mark your calendars for more fun wildlife and nature inspired events heading your way!

Earth Day/Party for the Planet: April 22
Back by popular demand – it’s a “Party for the Planet” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The Seas with Nemo & Friends where we will be hosting an Earth Day celebration. Discover how you can help animals by creating wildlife-friendly spaces in your backyard. Explore ways to protect and care for marine life through engaging activities. Learn more about sustainable living and how to make great choices every day to benefit both your family and our planet! Join us and don’t forget to grab your exclusive Earth Day 2015 merchandise.
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International Migratory Bird Day: May 9
Spring is all about the birds as we celebrate our winged friends on International Migratory Bird Day. Become an “honorary bird” and discover how you measure up in size and color to nearly 350 species of wild birds while also learning about the great care we provide for our birds at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Discover what the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund is doing to ensure our skies stay filled with the many colored feathers of these amazing animals. From what they eat, to where they fly, you’ll learn all you care to know about birds—and that’s nothing to squawk at!

World Turtle Day: May 21
While visiting Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’ll have the chance to immerse yourself in turtle life as you try on a replica turtle shell or get up-close with some of our turtles and tortoises including seeing our veterinarians in action with these unique animals. At The Seas with Nemo & Friends, discover how to help turtles overcome threats they face in the wild while taking part in hands-on activities that let you experience life as a turtle–all while turtles swim gracefully in the background throughout our 5.7-million-gallon aquatic habitat!
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Tour de Turtles: August 1
Hundreds of sea turtles lay their nests on the beaches of Florida every year and on this special day we invite you to join us at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort for the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s annual “Tour de Turtles” event. Two turtles who have made their nests at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort will be equipped with satellite transmitters which allow sea turtle fans to follow the marathon migration of these turtles from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. The turtles had been fitted with satellite transmitters to help with conservation efforts as they swim to raise awareness about the threats that sea turtles face. Join us for the race to the ocean where you can participate in beachside activities while learning ways you can help sea turtles!
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Keep an eye out for these events and more! Here are a few more dates to look forward to:

  • World Oceans Day: June 3
  • Pollinator Day: June 11
  • Big Cat Day: July 30
  • Primate Day: August 20
  • Elephant and Rhino Day: September 24
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Wildlife Friday: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Welcomes White Rhino Calf to the Herd!

posted on February 20th, 2015 by Robyn Johnson, Zoological Manager, Disney’s Animal Kingdom


Our baby boom continues! Join us in saying, “Afya njema!” to wish the newest baby at Disney’s Animal Kingdom “good health” in Swahili. Earlier this month, a white rhino, also a first-time mom born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2005, gave birth to a healthy baby boy! The new baby’s grandmother was also born at the park and regularly roams the savannahs of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, making this new calf the third generation of white rhinos born here.

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The new mom is being appropriately protective of her son, but our animal care team has been keeping up with mother and child to assure that both are thriving!

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Welcomes White Rhino Calf to the Herd Disney’s Animal Kingdom Welcomes White Rhino Calf to the Herd

Despite their name, white rhinos are actually grey in color and sport two horns on their large head. These horns are made of fibrous keratin, just like our fingernails. While rhinos have good hearing and sense of smell, they have poor vision and cannot discern a motionless person at a distance of more than 100 feet.

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Native to central and southern Africa, the white rhino loves grassy areas and will graze several times a day. This mild-mannered animal usually keeps its family group small and tightly-knit. Rhinos are born weighing up to 143 pounds. (Talk about a big baby!) Fully grown females will grow to be anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds while adult males can be up to 5,000 pounds.

This new rhino calf is the ninth white rhino born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and we are happy to see our herd of rhinos continue to grow. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in the wild. Last year, rhinos faced the worst poaching in history, leaving the northern white rhino extinct in the wild. Its cousin in the south, appropriately named the southern white rhino, is severely endangered and without continued conservation efforts, will meet the same fate.

Several cast members at Disney’s Animal Kingdom are board members for the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and work closely in efforts to help protect rhinos in the wild. The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) also contributes to rhino conservation, research and habitat protection projects for rhinos throughout the world. As a guest, there are plenty of ways you may have contributed—adding a dollar to your purchase, picking up a sponsored pin or merchandise item, enjoying the Wild Africa Trek excursion at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or snorkeling at The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Every donation, big or small, adds up and is combined with support from Disney, which in turn has given all of us something amazing to celebrate.

The celebration of our newest baby birth will continue for months to come and be sure to look for both mom and baby to join the rest of the herd on the savannahs of Kilimanjaro Safaris over the next few months.

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Wildlife Thursday: Animals Celebrated Valentine’s Day with Festive and Delicious Treats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on February 19th, 2015 by Katie Leighty, Ph.D., Science Operations Manager


Love was definitely in the air last weekend at the Walt Disney World Resort! While many of us spent quality time with the ones we love, our animal care teams did the same as they shared Valentine’s Day with the animals that call Disney’s Animal Kingdom home. The teams created unique holiday themed enrichment to highlight the animals’ natural behaviors.

Enrichment is a key part of the animal care program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It enables animals to make choices about their environment and encourages natural behaviors. Enrichment also allows guests to see the cool adaptations that help the animals survive!

We wanted to share just a few of the many creative enrichment ideas these folks came up with!

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch, our Rabbit Received a Special Strawberry and Oatmeal Valentine Treat. + This Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine Received a Special Delivery Valentine Heart Filled with Edible Treats. At Rafiki’s Planet Watch, our Rabbit Received a Special Strawberry and Oatmeal Valentine Treat. + This Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine Received a Special Delivery Valentine Heart Filled with Edible Treats.

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Did you know…?

  • You can enrich the lives of wildlife and encourage natural behaviors in your own backyard by adding a bird bath, native plants, log piles and bird houses. Then, sit back and enjoy the fun of watching the wildlife up close!
  • To learn more about Disney conservation efforts, visit www.disney.com/conservation!
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