Thirty years ago when Walt Disney was planning his Florida theme park, he set aside more than one-third of the park property to be dedicated conservation habitat. That adds up to 10,000 acres of conservation area that is integrated throughout Walt Disney World property. And I found the the Mouseketeers that work at Walt Disney World take that conservation very seriously.
During my stay at Disney, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Dr. Jackie Ogden, the Vice President of Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives for the Walt Disney World Resort. What that long title means is that Dr. Ogden is in charge of pretty much everything green that happens in and around Walt Disney World.
Dr. Ogden gave me a behind the scenes tour of the animal conservation programs and green initiatives that take place at Walt Disney World, and throughout the world. Here are just a few of her favorite programs:
In the United States, as much as 90% of sea turtle nesting occurs in Florida. Disney researchers help to protect and promote this sea turtle nesting through a number of programs. As part of the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Workshop hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 7 green sea turtles were recently released into the wild after a 2 month rehab visit to Disney World. The endangered sea turtles washed up on shore in December during a red tide event on Florida’s east coast. The turtles were cared for by Disney’s Animal Programs Veterinary Team. Since the release, the turtles have been tracked with external flipper tags and internal tags as well, allowing scientists to identify the turtles at a later date.
The cotton-top tamarin is one of the most endangered primates in the world. The South American primate is threatened by both habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade. Working with the local community and conservation groups, Disney research scientists help to investigate economic alternatives that can support local communities and decrease their dependency on forest products…in other words, instead of just telling impoverished folks in the local communities that they shouldn’t cut down their trees or capture and sell wildlife, this program aims to develop viable alternatives for local community members to support their families.
One of the most profitable products to come out of this program is the eco-mochila tote bag that is woven from recycled plastic bags. Not only does this initiative help to reduce the amount of waste that litters the forests of Colombia, it also gives the local community members a viable commodity to sell and a reason to protect their surrounding environment. Since the eco-mochila program started 4 years ago, the number of cotton-top tamarins caught for the illegal pet trade and the illegal harvest of trees in the forest has decreased significantly. Eco-mochila bags are available for sale in certain stores at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Did you know that elephants were afraid of bees? I didn’t. But Disney’s animal scientists do, and they’re studying the interaction between elephants and bees to determine whether bees can be used as an effective elephant deterrent for crops and trees. Additional research conducted in Animal Kingdom uncovered two new vocalizations among elephants unlocking a whole new realm of elephant behavior and socialization. Disney is also home to a very successful elephant breeding program, with 4 successful live births to date.
Sea Turtle photo by mappamundi
Cotton-Top Tamarin Photo by Proyecto Titi
Elephant photo by bocavermelha-l.b.’ s
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