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Disney Parks

15 Fun Facts About Disney's Animal Kingdom

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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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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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