25 March 2008

Disney's Animal Programs Top 10 Accomplishments

Animal Kingdom is unique in that, as a theme park, it can set goals besides park attendance and make an impact in the world. Trying to discern which of their conservation and educational objectives have had the most impact on the world, or a singular species, is a daunting task, yet, in honor of their tenth anniversary, Animal Kingdom has done gone ahead and done just that by devising their own Top 10 List of successes. The full article is presented below for your viewing pleasure.

Celebrating a Decade of Animal Magic -- Disney's Animal Programs Top 10 Accomplishments

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., March 25, 2008 – During its first decade, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has entertained millions of guests with one-of-a-kind shows, adventurous attractions, unique shops and distinct restaurants. But some of the most remarkable accomplishments have taken place behind-the-scenes through the efforts of Disney’s Animal Programs team. Disney’s 550 animal care experts have traveled around the globe, demonstrating a steadfast commitment to conserving wildlife and wild places. These veterinarians, scientists, educators, curators, and zookeepers have enhanced the world knowledge base of animals and bettered the lives of animals and their habitats here in Central Florida and in the most remote areas of Africa, Asia, North America and South America.


1. Repatriating White Rhinos
In 2006, two Disney-born white rhinos became the first-ever to repatriate from the United States to Africa. The two white rhinos joined four others at the Ziwa Sanctuary in Uganda to re-establish a population that became extinct in 1972 due to civil unrest in the region. Just this year, veterinarians, scientists and animal care experts from Disney’s Animal Kingdom returned to Uganda to follow-up and monitor them. The goal: to assist the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rhino Fund Uganda with the establishment of a breeding facility for rhinos that can be reintroduced to the wild.

2. Spreading the Conservation Message
Since 1999, the Animal Programs team has delivered more than 29 million conservation messages to inspire guests to care about wildlife and wild places. These efforts include fun, educational activities at six Kids Discovery Clubs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as well as an annual Party for the Planet on Earth Day, and a special Leap Day event to celebrate 2008 as the Year of the Frog.

3. Bringing Back the Micronesian Kingfisher
Through a successful long-term, captive breeding program, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has produced approximately 25 percent of the total world population of the Micronesian kingfisher. This tiny bird, native to Guam, is nearly extinct because of predatory snakes introduced to the island more than 50 years ago. Since the program started in 2000, the Animal Programs team has successfully hatched 22 baby birds.

4. Caring for Elephants
Disney has been at the forefront of efforts to better understand and care for endangered elephants. One of the most significant contributions of Disney scientists and engineers is the development of an elephant transmission collar that – for the first time – is enabling scientists to record elephant vocalizations that are too low for the human ear to detect. Through this effort, Disney scientists discovered two new vocalizations in 2004 that had never been reported for elephants in the wild or in zoological settings. The “rev,” which is short in duration and usually followed by a rumble, may indicate surprise. The “croak” is generally given when the trunk is used to manipulate an object.

Researchers also found that closely bonded females use low frequency “rumbles” to communicate with each other when they are out of sight and when they greet each other after having been apart. Disney’s Animal Kingdom also has also played a significant role in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Program for African elephants.

Three African elephants have been born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, adding to the largest herd in North America. African elephants are very difficult to breed, and having a successful birth of this endangered species is a significant and lengthy event. Ironically, another area of focus for Disney’s Animal Programs team has been helping to control the growing elephant population in some areas of southern Africa. Although elephants are endangered, their populations have expanded in some areas, and this growth threatens wildlife habitat. In 2006, veterinarians from Disney’s Animal Programs led a coalition of experts to Africa and their work has since resulted in the creation of a new surgical procedure and device that effectively sterilizes male elephants with little trauma or side effects.

5. Conserving the Cotton-top Tamarin
In 2007, Disney scientists conducted the first population census of cotton-top tamarins – a species found only in Colombia -- and found fewer than 6000 animals remain. The long-term survival of these rare primates is threatened by habitat destruction in South America and capture for the pet trade. Government officials and environmental groups are using this information to develop conservation areas and plans for this endangered species. For example, Proyecto Titi, a conservation group that works in Colombia, has influenced local communities with the use of “bindes,” which are small cookstoves that require two-thirds less firewood for cooking and the development of a cooperative that makes eco-mochilas, which are tote bags made from recycled plastic bags. As a result, more than one million plastic trash bags have been removed from Colombia’s environment.

6. Funding to Save Wildlife and Wild Places
Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund (DWCF) has given more than $11 million in support to a total of 650 projects in 110 countries since 1995. Many of the organizations concentrate their activities on ”biological hotspots” – areas rich in plant and animal life at risk of imminent destruction. Florida-based projects and groups have received more than $2.9 million in DWCF grants.

7. Administering World-Class Health Care
Animal Programs veterinarians have successfully performed surgery on a tarantula spider, placed an artificial eye in a fish and removed a golf ball from a hungry snake rescued at a Disney golf course. In all, more than 6,000 wellness checks have been performed at Disney’s Animal Hospital since 1998. State-of-the-art veterinary facilities include an x-ray room, ultrasound equipment, surgical suites and full-service laboratories. Disney’s Animal Care team has blazed new trails by using positive reinforcement to train animals to cooperate in their own care. For example, gorillas extend their arms for vaccinations, big cats open their mouths for keepers to examine their teeth and even storks step up on scales to be weighed.

8. Saving Sea Turtles
Over the years, Disney animal care teams have nursed 232 endangered sea turtles back to health. Disney scientists have collaborated with other experts to pioneer new satellite technology enabling them to track the travel patterns of rehabilitated and released turtles. In 2006, this sophisticated technology allowed scientists at the Wildlife Tracking Center to compile an entire year’s worth of tracking data – the longest period ever for a juvenile green sea turtle. Nicknamed Little Crush, the turtle was rescued and brought to Disney after he was found near death in the Indian River Lagoon.

9. Testing “Animal I.Q.”
Disney scientists have led the way in learning more about how animals learn and to understand their cognitive differences as they age. Gorillas, mandrills, and ground hornbills are very different animals, but they are all extremely smart. Continuing research indicates that mandrills, the largest species of monkey, are able to complete memory tasks on touch-screen computers. In addition, Disney scientists have discovered that ground hornbills have an ability to remember how to complete a task even after months have passed between trials.

10. Reaching out to the Professional Community
Committed to the zoological and conservation community, Disney has made significant effort in building the capacity of animal care and scientific professionals. Disney’s Animal Programs has more than 65 advanced internships in a variety of fields, ranging from conservation education to veterinary medicine, as well as pre-and post-doctoral fellowships. Thousands of zoological and conservation professionals have been trained through Disney’s Animal Programs staff and resources, with more than 50 scientific meetings and conferences hosted since 1998.

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