Last year, the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) introduced its Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time initiative, in part to help populations of threatened animals around the world. The DCF provides grants and applies the expertise of cast members to address the threats facing 10 endangered species in the wild, including great apes.
September 24 is the first World Gorilla Day, and we are celebrating by sharing information about Grauer’s gorillas, one of the most endangered primates in the world. As part of Disney’s commitment to conservation, we have supported sanctuaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center, a place for young great apes orphaned by poaching or the international wildlife trade.
Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment cast members have worked with GRACE for years, helping establish its facilities and advance their training. Recently, staff members reached out to the Disney team when they were puzzled by an increase in the number of gorillas with dental issues at the center.
Believing this to be a result of their diet, Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko, Disney veterinarian and GRACE veterinary consultant, contacted Shannon Livingston, Disney assistant animal nutritionist, and began to delve deeper.
The gorillas eat mostly vegetation, but the GRACE staff supplements a small part of their diet with a nutrient-rich, porridge-like substance that can stick to the gorilla’s teeth, potentially causing tooth decay. Shannon set out to make a nutrient-filled biscuit that could replace the porridge and be less likely to stick to their teeth.
Shannon started experimenting in her home kitchen using ingredients that could be locally sourced in the community surrounding GRACE. Using baking recipes with limited ingredients as a starting point, she came up with a simple recipe. To ensure they were tasty, Shannon made biscuits for the gorillas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These first taste-testers loved them so much, they were “singing” (making content humming sounds) while feeding.
When Dr. Natalie took the recipe to GRACE, she helped make the first batch of biscuits and said the gorillas at GRACE enjoyed them so much, they were singing, too.
You can help support Disney’s efforts to reverse the decline of gorillas and other animals by taking part in Connect to Protect, a mobile adventure in which guests participate in conservation ‘missions’ with a digital scientist while exploring Pandora – The World of Avatar and helping protect the habits of at-risk animals here on Earth.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF GRACE.