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Rafiki's Planet Watch Archives

April 23, 2013

Disney's Animal Kingdom Celebrates 15th Anniversary on Earth Day

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On Monday, Disney's Animal Kingdom celebrated two festivities -- Earth Day 2013 and the theme park's 15th anniversary.

The day began with an opening ceremony at the Tree of Life that featured Josh D'Amaro, Vice President of Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Dr. Jackie Ogden, Vice President of Animals, Science and Environment, as speakers. Because this was open to the public -- and held before rope drop -- it garnered quite a crowd as fans gathered to celebrate and park-goers waited to be let into the rest of Animal Kingdom. The highlight was a performance of The Lion King's "Circle of Life."

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Of course, the day featured special anniversary merchandise, including free commemorative maps and buttons to all guests. The line to purchase items such as T-shirts, Vinylmation figures and pins at Creature Comforts stretched to two hours at one point. Didn't make it to the anniversary party? One T-shirt design is available at DisneyStore.com through Thursday.

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Disney's Wildlife Conservation Fund offered an anniversary button to all those who donated $1 or more to the charity. Disney matches all donations to the fund at 100 percent.

Animal Kingdom also hosted artists and photographers who specialize in landscapes and nature designs, and their work was available for purchase on Earth Day. And what birthday would be complete without a cupcake? This cute Worms & Dirt confection is for sale all week at Kusafari Coffee Shop and Bakery and Isle of Java.

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Throughout the park, visitors were able to learn more about Disney's conservation efforts with special displays. Perhaps the most fun for younger guests, though, were the five Party for the Planet stations that helped kids learn about various aspects of conservation and planet stewardship through hands-on activities.

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In Asia, the booth was located at the end of the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Kids were invited to "shop" at a store and asked to find the items that are most Earth-friendly. At the end, cast members explained how to choose "green" products to make a difference for wildlife and nature. In Africa, at the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, kids followed five simple clues to learn how to identify animals in the wild. Of course, one was dung, which had the children around us laughing. No surprise there since bathroom humor always is a hit among the younger set.

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Rafiki's Planet Watch hosted the other three Party for the Planet stations, and they were inspired by Disneynature films. Outside the building, guests could learn about flying creatures ("Wings of Life"). One neat tip a cast member suggested was to place a light under a sheet to attract bugs for observation. And she demonstrated devices to capture and study crawling insects, too. Inside, kids could play a computer game that helped them understand behaviors of cheetahs and lions ("African Cats"), and another tactile game to learn how chimpanzees create tools from objects they find in nature ("Chimpanzee").

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Along the way, kids were invited to address postcards to friends and family and drop them in mailboxes, and Disney would take care of mailing the cards for free. Also, kids who completed the activities at each station were given a prize, and, together, the five prizes formed a wildlife tracking kit.

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For a theme park that has spent the past 15 years promoting the safekeeping of the planet and its inhabitants, Monday's Earth Day events certainly were a natural fit.

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February 19, 2013

How do zookeepers at Disney's Animal Kingdom keep animals warm during a Florida cold snap?

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When Orlando residents get an icy blast of winter weather as we did this past weekend, we often are caught unaware and must be reminded of some of the precautions we need to take to protect against the cold. Among the reminders we always hear is one to bring household pets indoors.

That made me wonder how the zookeepers at Disney's Animal Kingdom cope when the cold moves in. Can you imagine bringing the giraffes or rhinos into your family room to curl up by the fire?

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I spoke with several of the cast members who care for a variety of animals at the theme park this weekend as they prepared for the change in temperature. I was surprised to learn that each night, regardless of weather, most of the animals at the theme park are brought inside to their own individual accommodations. Sounds like an enormous undertaking, right?

This process takes up to three hours, which is why the attractions with animals at Animal Kingdom close earlier than the other rides and shows. It's all very well-organized, though. The animals have been trained to return to their pens for dinner. So, when they hear a particular audible signal, they make their way inside. Some hungry animals, like the ones we saw from the Wildlife Express Train, line up early, waiting for the gates to open. It reminded us of guests waiting for their ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations), and we all could relate to that!

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Once inside, the animals stay in quarters that are climate-controlled for their safety for the night. In the morning, the shelters are opened and the animals are given the choice to venture out when they are ready. Animals are not forced to leave if they do not choose to do so. In addition, there are heating and cooling elements built into the animals' outdoor habitats. Some of these items are visible to guests, such as fans and misters. Others are disguised. For example, some large "rocks" actually may be hollowed out caves with heat lamps that offer a respite away from the main buildings.

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Zookeepers are aware of each animal's individual threshold for temperature changes and protect them accordingly. One of the most sensitive is the Kimodo dragon, a predatory lizard that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh 300 pounds. (Deb spotted the Kimodo dragon on a recent walk-around at Animal Kingdom.) Most of the other reptiles, with the exceptions of the alligators and crocodiles, are permanently housed indoors at the Conservation Station at Rafiki's Planet Watch, because of the need for stable temperatures, among other concerns.

The ability to adapt to temperature variations was, of course, among the factors considered when the animals that live at Animal Kingdom originally were chosen for the park. Know that while the animals are safe and sound on a cold day, it may not be the best time to visit the park and ride Kilimanjaro Safaris because the stars of the show may be keeping warm backstage.

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About Rafiki's Planet Watch

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Rafiki's Planet Watch category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Party for the Planet is the previous category.

Wilderness Explorers is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.