Orlando, Florida, United States of America
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a 500 acre park that features both a huge diversity of exotic animals as well as rides and exhibits with themes related to the animals in each different area of the park. The park opened on Earth Day in 1998 in hopes of focusing on more than just entertainment but on preservation of animals in the wild through education and conservation efforts, issues important to Walt Disney himself. From its inception, the park has made one of its primary goals to be a leader in animal care, education of animal conservation and research. While providing an exciting and engaging visitor experience, the park also makes sure to use that opportunity to share with the public a wide range of conservation issues and is involved in breeding some of the most endangered species in the world.
The park consists of seven different areas: The Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia, and Dinoland USA. Most areas combine the thrill of various rides with the experience of seeing animals from the native environments represented in each area. At the Oasis region of the park, a guest will encounter parma wallabies, tree kangaroos, giant anteaters and sloths in a tropical garden setting. Discovery Island is explored by using footpaths and wooden bridges and brings into view lemurs, kangaroos, and Galapagos tortoises. In “Africa”, a guest can take the Kilimanjaro Safari, an open vehicle to the Savannah like exhibits in the park, where they will encounter giraffe, lions, antelope, white rhinos, warthogs and zebras in open settings much as they would be in the wild. Also in this part of the park one will find Pangani Forest, home to silverback gorillas, okapi and curious meerkats.
In “Asia” there is a rollercoaster through a replica of the Himalayas where the legendary Yeti awaits. There are also the river rapids, where guests should be prepared to get wet as they travel along fast moving water. Part of the Asia area of the park features tigers, a Komodo dragon, and tapirs all in a setting that captures the aura of Asia’s history thru recreated ancient ruins. Other amazing recreations from the past also can be found in Dinoland USA, but they go much further back to the days of Tyrannosaurus Rex, featuring a life-size skeleton 40 feet long. Surrounded by plants and animals from the Cretaceous period, one can take a ride back in time to capture a dinosaur while avoiding being eaten by a Trex, or dig for dinosaur bones just like a paleontologist.
The Wildlife Express is a train that will take guests on a short ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, a great area to encounter animals tame enough to pet, like llamas, goats and chickens. It is also a place to hear talks by the animal handlers and experience other strange and exotic creatures close up. One of the cutest but highly endangered animals found in this part of the zoo are the cotton-top tamarins, tiny primates with white tufts of hair atop their heads that enhance their clownish antics.
The wild Africa Trek is a private, guided tour offered at the Animal Kingdom, allowing guest at to view Nile hippos and crocs from above while they are safely suspended in a harness. The Backstage Safari tour is a three hour experience with the focus on animal care and keeping, and there are other tours available for guests that want to have a deeper exposure to what goes on behind the scenes and what conservation programs with which the park is involved.
Some of the most notable achievements to date have been the 5 elephant calves that have been born at the park, and eleven giraffes. Animals bred in captivity are essential to preventing animals being removed from the wild and in some cases can be used to protect or provide genetic diversity among both captive and wild populations. For instance, highly endangered white rhinos are slow to breed in captivity, and the first born to Disney in 1999 went on to reproduce in a sanctuary in Uganda and was the first of her kind to be reintroduced to an area where white rhinos had gone extinct. Since opening, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has had 8 white rhinos born at the park, the most recent of which was born to a mother also born at the park.