Gorillas have always held a special place in my heart, so I’ve been deeply touched by the award-winning book “The One and Only Ivan,” which tells the true story of Ivan, a 400-pound silverback gorilla who was raised by humans for the first 27 years of his life in a communal habitat in a suburban shopping mall. While there were several other animals there, such as Stella the elephant and Bob the dog, there were no other gorillas. Ivan did not know what it was like to be a part of a gorilla family until he moved to Zoo Atlanta, a fellow Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institution that oversaw giving him the best possible care.
You may see some familiar sights from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in the film, as the park served as an inspiration to the filmmakers. Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, with its lush greenery, was used as a model for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Filmmakers also spent time studying the behaviors of our western lowland gorilla troops, learning about their family dynamics and observing how they forage for food, play with one another, and sleep. We are very fortunate to have an exceptionally dedicated team of animal care experts who invest a lot of time in building trust with these gorillas, and all the 5,000+ animals in our care, which allows us to work closely with them.
In fact, our work with gorillas goes far beyond caring for the troops at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, through the Disney Conservation Fund, we support the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), the world’s only sanctuary for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas, a critically endangered species. GRACE provides the sort of storybook ending that Ivan dreams about in the movie. Rescued gorillas join an adoptive gorilla family and get to live together in spacious natural forest enclosures. Our animal care team members provide resources and share their expertise with staff at GRACE, which has been imperative in saving the lives of gorillas and helping ensure they thrive.
I’m very proud of the work our teams have done to support “The One and Only Ivan” and their dedication to ensuring gorillas are well cared for each and every day. I encourage you to watch this heartwarming story on Disney+, and be sure to check out our free downloadable activity packet with all you need to know about the care and conservation of these wonderful animals. And for everyday animal adventures, follow @drmarkatdisney on Instagram or @DisneyASE on Facebook.