Disney Parks
Disney Parks

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.

Getty Images

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.

12 Furry Facts About Red Pandas

Red pandas have always lived in the shadow of the other, more famous panda. But now it's time to give the little guy its due.


Red panda in a tree.

Currently, red pandas live in the Eastern Himalayas. But the first red panda fossil was found a little bit further afield than that—in the United Kingdom. In 1888, a fossil molar and lower jaw of a cougar-sized animal called the Giant Panda (unrelated to the modern giant panda) were discovered. More fossils have been found in Spain, Eastern Europe, and even the United States. Around 5 million years ago, Tennessee was home to a giant red panda that probably went extinct with the arrival of raccoons.


Red panda eating bamboo.

It might seem like an oxymoron, but carnivore in this case doesn't mean meat eater. Carnivore is a biological order that includes groups like bears, dogs, and cats, and while these animals are generally carnivores, some are omnivores, and some are vegetarians. Red pandas are classified as carnivores because they're descended from the same ancestors as the other carnivores, but they rarely eat anything other than bamboo and a few insects. And while giant pandas eat all of a bamboo plant, red pandas eat only the young leaves. Because this is such a nutritionally poor food source, they need to spend 13 hours a day eating and looking for food and can lose upwards of 15 percent of their body weight in winter.


Red panda sleeping on a branch.

But their tails add as much as 18 inches to their length. Red pandas live solitary lives in trees, high up in the mountains, so they wrap those big, bushy tails around themselves to keep warm. (They also use them for balance.)


Red panda perched on a log.

This is another feature (along with diet) that red pandas and giant pandas share. Because both pandas have false thumbs—which is actually an extended wrist bone—it was thought that it must be an adaption to eating bamboo. But the red panda's more carnivorous ancestors had this feature as well. According to a 2006 study, what happened was "one of the most dramatic cases of convergence among vertebrates." Convergent evolution is when two unrelated animals faced with similar circumstances evolve to look similar. In this case, the red panda's false thumb evolved to help it climb trees, and only later became adapted for the bamboo diet, while giant pandas evolved this virtually identical feature because of their bamboo diet.


Red panda climbing across a tree.

Rusty the red panda had been at the Smithsonian National Zoo for just three weeks when he made a break for it in June 2013. His method of escape? A tree branch that was pushed down over his enclosure's electric fence by heavy rains. The ensuing panda hunt (and endless bad jokes about panda-monium) captivated Twitter (tweeters used the hashtag #findrusty) until he was found in a nearby neighborhood. Soon after his daring escape, Rusty became a father, forcing him to put his wild youth behind him and settle down. But it could have been worse. After a similar escape in Dresden, Germany, the authorities got another red panda down from a tree by using a fire hose to spray it with water. The panda fell 30 feet to the ground, giving it a concussion. (Ultimately, the animal was OK.)

Red pandas have also escaped from zoos in London, Birmingham, and Rotterdam. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums even warn in their official care manual "beware: red pandas are escape artists" [PDF].


Red panda peeking out from behind some tree branches.

Sadly, the red panda involved in the 1978 Rotterdam escape was found dead not long after the search for it began. But the event led to a very peculiar psychological observation. Even after the body of the panda was found, more than 100 people reported seeing it, very much alive. These sightings were clearly mistaken; there's no reason to think that multiple red pandas were loose in Rotterdam, and red pandas are distinctive enough that mistaking them for a dog or cat was unlikely. It's believed that people expected to see a red panda, so they saw one, even though there wasn't one there; researchers called it the Red Panda Effect.


The Mozilla Firefox logo.
LEON NEAL, AFP/Getty Images

Mozilla's flagship browser, Firefox, means red panda. Originally, Mozilla wanted to name the browser Firebird, but found that another open source project was using that name. Not wanting to upset anyone, they decided to go with Firefox, another name for the red panda. And in a true example of adorableness, in 2010 Mozilla adopted two baby red pandas that had been born at Tennessee's Knoxville Zoo.


Engraving of a parti-colored bear.
Engraving of a parti-colored bear, from The New Natural History Volume II by Richard Lydekker, 1901.

After the red panda was discovered in the 1820s, it was just called the panda (the origin of the name is controversial, but it probably comes from the Nepali word ponya, meaning "bamboo or plant eating animal"). Forty years later, Europeans found a new animal in China and called it the Parti-Colored bear—because unlike polar bears, black bears, or brown bears it was multi-colored.


A red panda walking toward the camera.

Prepare to be confused: In the late 19th century, scientists noticed that the parti-colored bear and the (red) panda were very similar. Their jaws were more like each other than they were like any other animal, they lived near each other, they both had false thumbs, and their diets were similar. The decision was made to officially consider the (red) panda as a type of bear.

By the early 20th century, that decision was reversed: Parti-colored bears were declared bears, and (red) pandas were classified as cousins of the raccoon.

Then, in the 1910s, it was decided that parti-colored bears weren't actually bears at all, but were actually large pandas, and also distant relatives of the raccoon. But because parti-colored bears weren't classed as bears anymore, they had to have a name change. They became giant pandas, while the one true panda was renamed the red or lesser panda (to quote a 1920 issue of Popular Science: "Zoologists reverently refer to this rare beast as the "giant panda." Its more popular cognomen is the 'bear-raccoon'").


Two red pandas touch noses.

By the 1980s, genetic evidence indicated that giant pandas actually were a type of bear, and red pandas belonged in their own family, the Ailuridae. They might seem similar, but they're not related.

All of this means that if you're the type of person who rolls their eyes when someone calls a bison a buffalo, or a koala a bear, you need to stop calling the bear a panda and instead refer to it as a "parti-colored bear," the original English name (but if you wanted to call it the bear-raccoon, no one would stop you). Giant pandas are not pandas. There is only one true panda.


Red panda with teeth bared.

There's still a kung fu panda in the series: Shifu, a red panda.


Red panda laying down and sticking his tongue out.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are fewer than 10,000 red pandas left in the wild. Habitat destruction increases the species' chances of extinction.

This story originally ran in 2015.

There’s No Safe Amount of Time to Leave a Dog in a Hot Car

We often think of dogs as indomitable and durable animals who can fend off attackers, tirelessly chase Frisbees, and even eat poop without digestive consequences.

It’s true that dogs generally have a solid constitution, but that shouldn’t lead you to believe they can endure one of the biggest mistakes a pet owner can make: Leaving them in a hot car, even for a few minutes, puts a dog’s life at serious risk.

Even on relatively cool days with temperatures around 71.6°F, the inside of a vehicle can reach 116.6°F within an hour, as Quartz highlights.

If it’s a scorching summer heat wave, an 80-degree day will see temperatures get up to 99°F in just 10 minutes; a 90-degree day can turn the car into an oven at 119°F in the same amount of time.

Dogs can't tolerate this kind of heat. As their bodies struggle to cool down, the temperature is often more than they can expel through panting and opening capillaries in the skin. If their body reaches a temperature of 105.8°F, they're at risk of heatstroke, which only half of dogs survive. At 111.2°F, a lack of blood circulation can cause kidney failure and internal bleeding. Brain damage and death is very likely at this point. Depending on the outside temperature, it can happen in as little as six minutes. Cracking windows won't help.

Unless you plan on leaving your vehicle running with the air conditioning on (and we don't recommend that), there’s really no safe amount of time to leave a pet inside. If you do come back to find a listless dog who is unresponsive, it’s best to get to a veterinarian as soon as possible. And if you’re a bystander who sees a dog trapped inside a car, alert the nearest store to try and make an announcement to get the owner back to the vehicle. You can also phone local law enforcement or animal control. In some states, including California, you’re legally allowed to enter a vehicle to rescue a distressed animal.

[h/t Quartz]


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