Disney’s Animal Kingdom is celebrating 25 years of being “truly a living thing,” as Roy E. Disney declared at the park’s official dedication ceremony on April 21, 1998. Fans of the Central Florida theme park beam about its animal encounters, endearing musicals and thrilling rides.
There’s a lot to celebrate two and a half decades later. For example, despite serving as an attraction to tourists, Animal Kingdom is also a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an organization that strives to increase populations of endangered animals around the world. Disney’s Animal Nutrition Center – located backstage at the theme park – has created diets for more than 3,000 mammals, reptiles and birds, proving to be a model kitchen for other AZA-accredited facilities.
Here are 25 more interesting facts about Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
THE SPARK: It’s said that Walt Disney’s love of animals began when he was four years old. His family moved from Chicago to Marceline, Mo., where he had to take care of farm animals.
FREQUENT FLYERS: To build Animal Kingdom, a core team of seven Walt Disney Imagineers traveled more than 500,000 miles in search of visions of life in the world. That’s equal to circling the globe 20 times.
NOT SO WILD: The originally intended name for the park was Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom. The “wild” was dropped before it opened.
MAGICAL CREATURES: When then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner first talked up the development of the theme park, the idea was to include mythological animals – think unicorns – along with real-life creatures.
HOLLYWOOD HELP: One could argue those mythological creatures finally arrived when Pandora – The World of Avatar – opened in 2017.
FIRST ARRIVALS: A pair of 2-year-old giraffes, Miles and Zari, were the first animals to arrive at the park on April 26, 1997.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The first birth at Disney’s Animal Kingdom was a kudu, a large African antelope, on Oct. 5, 1997.
STAYING PUT: Today, 45 animals that have been residents of the park since opening day or before still live there.
A HUGE DEAL: The Kilimanjaro Safari attraction rests on 110 acres of land, while the Magic Kingdom itself is only 107 acres in size.
RECORD BREAKER: Expedition Everest, in the Asia area of Animal Kingdom, cost $100 million to build. That landed the roller coaster as the most expensive coaster ever built to date, according to the 2011 Guinness World Records.
A MASTERPIECE: The Tree of Life has 337 animal carvings carved into its base – not machine-carved, they’re hand-carved in plaster. It took 10 artists and three “Imagineers” working full-time for 18 months to finish the work.
BLOW US OVER: The base of the Tree of Life is actually an oil rig that was designed to hold up to hurricane winds.
NO BONES ABOUT IT: “Dino-Sue” in DinoLand is a nearly-exact replica of the T. rex skeleton in Chicago’s Field Museum. The Chicago skeleton is the world’s most complete representation of a T. Rex and is actually 2 feet longer than the Animal Kingdom version.
GREEN THUMBS: More than 4 million trees, plants, shrubs, vines, grasses and ground coverings from every continent on Earth — except Antarctica — have been planted.
A REAL ADVENTURE: A Wilderness Explorers program debuted in 2013, allowing guests to trace the adventures of Russell from the Disney Pixar film “Up” and earn badges during the journey.
A GREAT CAUSE: The Disney Conservation Fund, supported by Animal Kingdom guests, has directed $125 million and to support organizations working with wildlife communities since its founding in 1995.
HERE TO HELP: Animal Kingdom is home to several endangered species including Sumatran tigers, western lowland gorillas, African elephants, cotton-top tamarins and okapi.
ANIMAL ER: Animal Kingdom is one of only a few animal hospitals in U.S. zoos with computed tomography (CT) scanners, allowing quicker diagnoses and treatments.
QUITE THE GROCERY BILL: It takes four tons of food a day to feed the park’s animals.
THANKFULLY NOT MY JOB: More than 10,000 samples of animal poop have been analyzed since the park opened.
A GARDEN HOSE WON’T DO: It requires 27 million gallons of water to fill Discovery River – about the amount needed to fill 1,800 average-sized backyard pools.
AWE-INSPIRING ELEVATION: The 22 floating mountains in the Valley of Mo’ara on Pandora – The World of Avatar peak at about 130 feet above the floor.
TRUE TEAMWORK: It took more than 60 artisans from the United States, Peru, France, Portugal, Japan and Ireland to create the floating mountains on Pandora – The World of Avatar.
BE RIGHT BACK: The shortest ride at Animal Kingdom is TriceraTop Spin at 1 minute and 30 seconds.
SIT AND STAY A WHILE: The longest attraction at Animal Kingdom is a tie at 30 minutes between Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Big Blue and Beyond.
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