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25 Years of Memories at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Jeff Vahle

by , President, Walt Disney World Resort

Today’s anniversary of Disney’s Animal Kingdom has me thinking back to the beginning of this park that has played such a big role in my Disney journey.

I had been with the company less than seven years when I was invited to join the park’s opening leadership team in 1997 as the Engineering Services general manager. I jumped at the chance! The opportunity to open a park doesn’t come along every day, and I felt lucky to get that chance so early in my career.

Before we could open, we spent long days preparing for a vision that was completely new to the world of Disney parks. The idea behind Disney’s Animal Kingdom was to have a place where we could celebrate the magic of nature, invigorate conservation efforts by caring for animals that were endangered in the wild, and educate guests on ways they could help support that mission. All of that, in the setting of the fourth theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort, with world-class attractions, entertainment, and more.

This being Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we took on more than your typical engineering tasks when you factored in the animals and their habitats. The opening team banded together to tackle a whole new batch of challenges, such as building perimeter fences, designing animal enclosures, and working with elephants who loved to eat the plants as fast as we could put them in the ground!

As we approached opening day, Bob Lamb (the park’s vice president) and the rest of the leadership team wanted to honor the moment with a time capsule. Items were carefully selected by each area. Into the ground it went, with a plan to open it together on the 25th anniversary.   

Fast forward to today, when I had the opportunity to spend time with some of the opening day leaders and cast members as we welcomed guests, yet again, to discover the wonder of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Cast Members near Disney's Animal Kingdom Cast Services unearthing time capsule with Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle

After a special moment onstage with our guests, members of the opening leadership team joined me backstage to finally unearth and open the time capsule. We had a great time looking through the items, which included a piece of engineering hardware – an actuator, to be exact – from a particularly memorable pre-opening project. 

This trip down memory lane was a reminder that none of it would have been made possible without the many people who dedicated their time and efforts to bringing Disney’s Animal Kingdom to fruition.

Today, Disney’s Animal Kingdom welcomes millions of guests each year to discover the magic of nature. I am incredibly proud of our cast members for embracing the park’s mission and sharing it, not only with our guests but also with our community. Over the last 50 years, we have been discovering new ways to give back to our local and global community. Earlier this year, we granted half a million dollars to five conservation organizations in Florida to help them with the amazing work they do right in our backyard.

It doesn’t stop there. Just yesterday, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Disney Conservation Fund announced grants to 25 global organizations that have dedicated themselves to inspiring change and protecting our world. These collective efforts are just one example of many that demonstrate how Disney is dedicated to protecting the magic of nature by giving back.

On behalf of everyone at Walt Disney World, I want to thank you for joining in the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Whether you were at the park today or are following along from elsewhere around the world, thank you for being part of our story and sharing in our fascination with animals, authentic adventures, and awe-inspiring discovery. We’ve had a wild ride together and I look forward to celebrating the magic of nature at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for many more years to come!