Walt Disney World

Happy Birthday, Disney's Animal Kingdom

A Big Anniversary for Disney's Animal Kingdom, and a Big Hand for Wildlife

Whooping cranes fill the skies of Florida, with some help from Operation Migration -- just one of the projects helped by Disney's Animal Kingdom and DWCF. Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park is turning ten -- it's been a lucky decade for Park Guests, and also a lucky one for wildlife, thanks to the efforts of the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund. Established on Earth Day, April 22, in 1995, the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund (DWCF, for short) has annually awarded money to conservation projects around the world to assist in preserving the diversity and splendor of the environment. From sea turtles to elephants, chimps to king vultures, DWCF funds have helped improve their chances at survival.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Park is a fun place to stay and play -- but is also much more, with a deep commitment to conservation and education. Since the Park opened on Earth Day, 1998, Disney's Animal Kingdom and DWCF have worked hand in hand to make an even more powerful coalition for wildlife. Park Guests can make donations to DWCF (and they have, by the thousands) -- but the partnership goes beyond dollars and cents.

Claire Michael of Disney's Animal Kingdom explains, "A key component of the Animal Kingdom's... ... mission is to inspire Guests to conservation action through the experiences they have while in the Park. The DWCF and worldwide conservation have benefited from the great opportunity that Disney's Animal Kingdom and other locations offer Guests to make a difference for wildlife and wild places." She continues, "The DWCF is built on the passion and commitment of the Cast Members involved with the program. Whether they share stories with Guests about the animals protected through the DWCF, sit on the evaluation team that decides where the funds are best directed, or proudly pin a DWCF button on a young Guest, every connection and message is important to the success of this program."

Scott Tidmus, a zoological manager at DAK, adds "I like to think this one is a two-way street! The Fund has helped support programs and projects that are of interest to the Cast Members at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and we're able to assist on a global scale with projects that have a connection to the species here at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Without one it is hard for the other to function at times!"

This year, Earth Day is not only the birthday of both the Fund and the Park -- it's also seeing a name change from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (with the same convenient initials!), to emphasize The Walt Disney Company's wide-ranging commitment to the environment and nature. Disney button collectors will want to note that the DWCF "conservation hero" buttons are being reissued with a new design to commemorate the change -- they're available as an extra thank-you to Park Guests who donate to the fund.

Although the Fund's scope is worldwide and the Park hosts animals and habitats spanning the globe, one of the proudest projects underway is one right in the Walt Disney World Resort backyard. Claire fills us in: "Operation Migration (OM) is dedicated to the conservation of the world's most endangered crane, the whooping crane. Founded in 1994, OM started on a journey to determine whether people could teach birds to migrate using ultralight aircraft. Working first with Canada geese, the team learned that they could use this method successfully and the attention they received led to the making of the film 'Fly Away Home.' Operation Migration was then asked to take this method and use it to reintroduce captive-born whooping cranes to the wild, teaching them a migration route from Wisconsin to Florida. The program has been going since 2000 and OM can now claim 76 birds released into the Eastern Migratory Population, five times the number that existed in the early 1940s."

The DWCF has supported this program since 2000 and has helped OM purchase equipment, a new plane, and safer wings for all the ultralights. But Disney's Animal Kingdom has chipped in beyond this financial contribution, according to Claire. "Walt Disney World's Animal Programs' Cast has volunteered to build the holding pens that the birds are kept safe in once they arrive, and our veterinary team performs the health checks on the birds when they finally complete their long migration. For the past few years, Operation Migration has also participated in International Migratory Bird Day at Disney's Animal Kingdom -- bringing a plane and their team to talk to Guests about their program and their partnership with Disney."

Synergy is a Disney byword, and this teamwork between the Park and the Conservation Fund, Guest entertainment and education, the visionary and the implementation, shows why. As Scott notes, "We are one and the same - we care about wildlife and wild places all over the world." This Earth Day, there's a lot to celebrate, however you care to mark the date.

Academy Travel is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner
Specializing in Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney Vacations
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