For almost five decades, Disney Theme Parks attracts visitors from many countries around the world and Animal Kingdom, a branch of the world-famous parks, opened on Earth Day in 1998 in Orlando, Florida. With the recent expansion of the new site opening this week, Pandora – World of Avatar, Animal Kingdom will undoubtedly attract more visitors in the upcoming summer season. The influx of tourists leaves many activist groups questioning if Animal Kingdom is giving the right care to their animals. I recently had the fortunate opportunity to visit Animal Kingdom and explore the many conservation efforts taken by the most popular amusement park company in the world.
The enclosures for the animals are incredibly large compared to local zoos and they emphasized their efforts to achieve high standards of care. Throughout Animal Kingdom, there was no animal caged behind bars and rather, they are able to roam many acres. This is observed by their efforts to dedicate an entire ride, Kilimanjaro Safari, to previewing the rare yet popular species such as the African elephant, lions, cheetahs, and hippos.
Set up to look similar to their native environment, their enclosures add to the safari feel and ultimately, animal wellness as they are in their natural environment. Kilimanjaro Safaris offers a strong message of conservation throughout the ride with information about the many wildlife conservation initiatives taken at Disney World.
Animal Kingdom no longer takes in animals from the wild unless the population is so dangerously low that intervention for their conservation is necessary, for example, the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, an animal now extinct in the wild.
Due to its majestic horn, many poachers hunt the animal as it was believed to have a healing effect, however, this is not necessarily true. Animal Kingdom introduced two oryx calves in 2010, and seven years later many more are seen in the Safari.
At the end of Kilimanjaro Safaris, the guide instructed us on how important donations were to the conservation of many animals. All proceeds donated by adding a dollar or more to purchases of food/gifts or the purchase of reusable shopping bags at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts goes directly to nonprofit organizations worldwide. The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supports community and non-governmental organizations with grants that promote positive impacts on local ecosystems, species, and communities. Disney claims that their focus on academic funding has led to the discovery of a butterfly in Myanmar and a tree frog in Nicaragua.
There are a multitude of conservation-based educational programs for guests. A free program is available for all ages to interact with cast members to learn about wildlife and conservation with zero technology involved. At each station, you are ble to earn at least one badge from a guide to put into your wilderness explorers handbook.
Another conservation-based program is a center for wildlife conservation home to animal encounters, interactive exhibits, and veterinary facility, Conservation Station! Guests can explore the headquarters where experts are working behind-the-sciences either performing surgical procedures or feeding a large python.
Throughout the park, you will find no cup lids or plastic straws because of the danger to animals. Also, there are more than 4,000 varieties of trees and plants in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Here is a list of a few of many initiatives taken by Disney into help the environment:
In May of 2009, Disney promoted the conservation of animals with Disney’s Friends for Change, a movement that takes well-known child celebrities to provide inspiration to help the planet by making simple actions.
Later that same year, Disney’s Planet Challenge released as a national environmental learning competition for elementary school students to create and implement their own projects that save the environment at their schools and communities. This project helped provide many teachers with cost-free lesson plans in environmental science.
In late 2009, The Walt Disney Company invested $7 million dollars in forest projects in the Amazon, the Congo, and the United States that help safeguard ecosystems.
The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve is twenty miles from Disney theme parks in Orlando. 8,500 acres are dedicated to preserving a living laboratory for land restoration, harboring more than 300 wildlife species.
Learn more about conservation efforts here.