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15 Fun Facts About Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney Parks
Disney Parks

It’s no coincidence that Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened on Earth Day in 1998—it’s the only Disney park dedicated to animal conservation. The 500 acres it takes up also makes it Disney’s largest theme park, and, as you might expect, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes in order to keep the operation running smoothly. In honor of Earth Day, here are 15 things you probably didn’t know about Disney’s wild side.
 

1. Artists went out on a limb.

There are more than 300 carvings on the Tree of Life. It took 10 artists and three Imagineers working full-time for 18 months to create all of them.

The Tree itself is 145 feet tall and 160 feet wide. And no, it’s not real. The base is actually an oil rig, made to withstand Floridian hurricane winds. It’s topped with more than 102,583 transparent leaves in five shades of green.

2. Park scientists document love in the "wild."

Disney Animal Kingdom scientists have been conducting in-depth studies on the vocalizations of elephants since the park opened in 1998. They’ve uncovered some interesting flirting interactions between male herds and female herds, and even discovered two new vocalizations never before reported in elephants.

3. The entire area is a zebra-free zone …

Zebras were introduced to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride in 2012—and removed just four months later. Though Disney never released an official statement, rumor has it that the zebras were too aggressive—constantly biting each other, blocking paths, and even attacking ride vehicles.

4. ... But it contains eight members of one of the world’s most endangered species.

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Since the park opened in 1998, eight endangered white rhinos have been born at Animal Kingdom. There are only about 11,000 left in the entire world.

5. Birds are egged on.

Some of the park's birds are given fake eggs to sit on, which makes older birds think they don’t need to continue repopulating. It also shows the younger birds where they should lay their eggs, so it’s a win-win situation.

6. Some of the park's plants were chosen by an elephant.

Certain plants that grow in the park were selected by Durgha Kali, a female elephant living in Nepal. One of Disney’s landscape architects rode the elephant to collect seeds; when Durgha Kali came across plants she liked, she would pick them with her trunk and hand them to her rider.

7. Disney decided to scale back on the dragons.

Part of the park was originally supposed to be “Beastly Kingdom,” an area featuring creatures such as dragons and unicorns. Evidence of the incomplete land can still be found around the park—for instance, there’s a dragon in some of the logos. The Beastly Kingdom area is now being made into Avatar Land.

The Imagineers who were scheduled to work on Beastly Kingdom were let go when plans were scrapped, and immediately snapped up by Universal Studios, who had them focus on the Dragon Challenge roller coaster, now part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Beastly Kingdom attractions would have included a dark roller coaster called “Dragon Tower,” a ride based on the Fantasia movie, and a hedge maze called “Quest for the Unicorn.”

8. The park's mountain costs hundreds … of millions.

With a cost of more than $100,000,000, Expedition Everest is the most expensive roller coaster ever made, and at 199.5 feet tall, it’s just shy of the Federal Aviation Guidelines that would have required the faux mountain to have a red light beacon on top.

9. Pre-Frozen, its scribes just kept swimming.

Before they penned the ice queen hits you’ve heard 4-year-olds everywhere sing for the past two years, Frozen writers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote the songs for Finding Nemo: The Musical at Animal Kingdom.

10. The Magic Kingdom is tiny by comparison.

The Kilimanjaro Safari savannah is more than 110 acres, making this one ride bigger than the entire Magic Kingdom (107 acres).

11. You can meet Sue. (Sort of.)

If you haven’t made it to the Field Museum in Chicago to check out Sue, the world’s most complete T. Rex skeleton, be sure to visit Dino-Sue in DinoLand. At 13 feet tall and 40 feet long, the statue is an exact replica (except the real Sue is actually 2 feet longer).

12. A robot dinosaur used to roam park grounds.

The park once featured an animatronic dinosaur named Lucky that could walk, interact with guests, and even give autographs all by itself. (This further affirms my belief that Disney is the first place to steer clear of when machines become self-aware.) Lucky no longer maintains a permanent residence at the park, and instead travels to festivals all over the world.

13. Imagineers invented their own prehistoric creature.

The Carnotaurus baddie in the Dinosaur! ride isn’t an exact representation of the real carnotaur—this one has bigger thighs, knobbier skin, and more height—so Imagineers decided it was a new sub-species. They named it “Carnotaurus robustus Floridana,” meaning “Stout meat bull from Florida.”

14. The animals come first.

You won’t find plastic straws, cup lids, or balloons at Animal Kingdom. These all pose health risks to the animals.

15. Designers decided not to rock the boat.

Imagineer Joe Rohde has mentioned that the design team considered a Noah’s Ark concept as a unique way to enter the park, but decided that it was too controversial to include.

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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