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This Day In Disney History: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Opened in 1998

Jennifer Fickley-Baker

by , Editorial Content Manager, Walt Disney World Resort

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park opened its doors on Earth Day (April 22, 1998), giving families a whole new way to appreciate, enjoy and interact with animals.

The Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom

This park was the fourth to be built at the Walt Disney World Resort. It’s also the largest, spreading out over 500 acres, which gives the theme park’s 1,000 residents plenty of room to roam, run, crawl, slither and swim.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Dedication Ceremony

In 1998, an elaborate grand-opening ceremony was attended by a crowd of 2,000, with primatologist Jane Goodall, Ph.D., playing a special role in the festivities. Then-CEO Michael Eisner introduced the theme park to the world, calling it “a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama and learn.”

Although the park opened in 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park actually has a lot of ties to Walt Disney, and the passion and respect he displayed for animals and nature throughout his life. Growing up on a farm in Marceline, Mo., the subject of some of Walt’s earliest sketches were local animals. Later on in his career, Walt cast many animals in important roles in his animated films, and took a more serious look at life in the animal kingdom in his “True-Life Adventure Series” documentaries, which were considered to be groundbreaking at the time of their release.

Animals at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Today, Walt’s legacy continues at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in the form of attractions that take guests up close with some of the most beautiful and interesting animals from around the world, such as Kilimanjaro Safaris, and the newly launched behind-the-scenes Wild Africa Trek tour.


  • I had the good fortune to be there on opening day in ’98. It was quite the experience. We arrived very early and were there for the initial activities. I heard later that the park filled to capacity within a couple of hours, so we were indeed lucky. All in all it was probably one of the most memorable times in my many trips to WDW.

  • I was lucky enough to be part of the opening cast of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I still remember walking with my tall blades of grass as part of the opening. Great memories! Happy birthday, DAK!!

  • Animal Kingdom is the reason I celebrate Earth Day.

  • Happy Anniversary to the Animal Kingdom and Happy Earthday as well!

    Do we have any new animal encounters to look forward to in the coming year? Will the Tapir and Asian Small Clawed Otters be returning?

  • I’ve seen the Jane Goodall chimp 🙂 I was a College Program kid in 2007 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Kilimanjaro Safaris!) so now I always make a point to celebrate Earth Day/Animal Kingdom’s birthday!

  • I was lucky enough to be participating in the Disney College Program in 2008 and had the pleasure of attending Animal Kingdom’s 10th anniversary events. What a fun day! Jane Goodall returned alongside a few other fantastic people.

    • I was there, too! Did you know that right before the entrance to It’s Tough To Be A Bug there’s a special chimpanzee carved into the trunk of the Tree of Life in honor of Jane Goodall?

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