Disney's Animal Kingdom is a zoological theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida, near Orlando. Owned and operated by The Walt Disney Company through its Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products division, it is the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres (230 ha). The park opened on Earth Day, April 22, 1998, and was the fourth theme park built at the resort. The park is dedicated and themed entirely around the natural environment and animal conservation, a philosophy once pioneered by Walt Disney himself.
Disney's Animal Kingdom is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which indicates they have met or exceeded the standards in education, conservation, and research.
In 2015, it had 10.9 million visitors, ranking it the fourth-most visited amusement park in the United States, behind the other three Walt Disney World parks, and seventh-most visited in the world.
Welcome to a kingdom of animals... real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.
Construction for Disney's Animal Kingdom began in 1990, a year after the opening of the Disney MGM Studios. To design the theme park, Disney Imagineers traveled to Africa and Asia to study the landscapes and wildlife.
Construction included building exhibits and animal holding areas, planting large numbers of plants, and creating dark rides and animatronics.
Disney's Animal Kingdom is divided into seven themed areas.
The Oasis is the park's "main street" and provides the transition from the parking lot and world of man to the park and the world of animals. The main paths feature animals and dense vegetation and trees lead deeper into the park and then onto Discovery Island.
Discovery Island is located at the center of the park, in the middle of the Discovery River waterway. It is the "central hub" connecting the other sections of the park, with the exception of Rafiki's Planet Watch. It was originally called Safari Village, as Discovery Island was the name for the small zoological park located in Walt Disney World's Bay Lake, but renamed after that area closed in 1999.
The Tree of Life, the park's sculpted, man-made baobab tree, is located in this section and is surrounded by trails and animal enclosures. Inside the Tree of Life is It's Tough to Be a Bug!, a 3D film based on the 1998 Disney·Pixar film, A Bug's Life.
The park's largest gift shops and two of its major restaurants are on Discovery Island.
Pandora – The World of Avatar is themed to the fictional alien exoplanetary moon, Pandora, from James Cameron's Avatar series. The land's marquee attraction is Avatar Flight of Passage, a 3D augmented reality flight simulator that allows guests to fly on a banshee across the Pandoran landscape. Another attraction, the Na'vi River Journey, places guests aboard a boat ride through Pandora's bioluminescent rainforests. The area opened on May 27, 2017.
Africa is one of the original areas of the park. Set in the fictional east African port village of Harambe, this area contains several animal exhibits. The village is the namesake of the Harambe Wildlife Preserve, the fictional home of Africa's main attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris. Guests climb aboard an open-sided safari vehicle for an expedition to see African species in savanna, rivers and rocky hills. The safari features hyenas, wild dogs, cattles, rhinos, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, buffaloes, crocodiles, ostriches, several species of antelopes, birds and flamingos. On the adjacent Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, visitors trek into the forest where animals such as black-and-white colobus monkeys, gerenuks, gorillas, hippos, Kenyan sand boas, kori bustards, meerkats, naked mole-rats, okapis, tarantulas, and yellow-backed duikers, as well as an aviary, are located. On the western side of Africa is the Harambe Theater, which is home to the Festival of the Lion King, a stage attraction based on the 1994 Disney film The Lion King.
Rafiki's Planet Watch is the only section of the park not connected to Discovery Island; it connects only to Africa. Guests board the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge Wildlife Express Train for the short trip to and from the area, which consists of three sub-areas. Guests first encounter Habitat Habit!, where they can see cotton-top tamarins and learn about the efforts to protect these endangered primates in their natural homes. Along the way, guests can also learn how to provide animal habitats in and around their own homes.
Conservation Station showcases the various conservation efforts supported by the Walt Disney Company. It also gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Disney's Animal Kingdom's animal care facilities, including a veterinary examination room complete with a two-way communications system so the veterinary staff can answer guest questions. Outside, Affection Section is a petting zoo featuring goats, sheep, and other domesticated animals.
Asia, the first expansion area added to Disney's Animal Kingdom, first opened in 1999. This area is set in the fictional kingdom of Anandapur (which means "Place of many delights" in Sanskrit and is named after the Kendujhar district's Anandapur municipality in India). Anandapur comprises two villages: a riverside village that is also called Anandapur and Serka Zong (which is in the foothills of the Himalayas). Portraits of Anandapur's royal family (consisting of the maharaja and his wife) can be found in most of the businesses within the two villages, a map of the kingdom featuring both villages and their location relative to the mountains and river can be found on the wall of the Disney Vacation Club kiosk located there. Much like Harambe, Anandapur is now a center of animal research and tourism.
The visual focal point of Asia is Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, a steel roller coaster ride through the Forbidden Mountain of the Himalayas where passengers encounter a Yeti. Nearby is Kali River Rapids, a river rapids ride along the Chakranadi River through a rainforest, past an illegal logging operation and down a waterfall. The Maharajah Jungle Trek leads guests through the forests and ruins outside the village, which are home to species such as bantengs, bar-headed geese, Sumatran tigers, blackbucks, Eld's deer, gibbons, Large flying foxes, Komodo dragons and over 50 bird species. Flights of Wonder, a live bird show where one of Anandapur's bird researchers educates a tour guide with a fear of birds about natural bird behaviors and the effects of habitat loss and conservation efforts on bird species, such as the black crowned crane and bald eagle.
In between Asia and DinoLand U.S.A. on the banks of the park's Discovery River is Rivers of Light, a nighttime show featuring mist screens, water fountains, floating lanterns, music, and lighting.
DinoLand U.S.A. is themed around dinosaurs and other extinct prehistoric life. The area is anchored by the Dino Institute, a fictitious palaeontological facility which is home to Dinosaur, a dark thrill ride featuring a harrowing trip through time to the Late Cretaceous Time Period and it was based on the 2000 Disney film Dinosaur. Just outside the Institute is "Dino-Sue", a casting of a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil that is the most complete yet found. At the nearby Boneyard, there is a multi-leveled playground area with a Columbian mammoth fossil to be uncovered and a cast skeleton of a Brachiosaurus. Adjacent to the Institute and its surrounding facilities, is Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama, which recalls the many roadside attractions that were once scattered throughout the United States. The area features Primeval Whirl, a steel Wild Mouse spinning roller coaster loosely inspired by the Dinosaur attraction, the TriceraTop Spin aerial carousel ride, carnival games and gift shops. At the eastern edge of DinoLand U.S.A. is the Theater in the Wild, which hosts Finding Nemo – The Musical, a live-action musical stage show based on the story of the 2003 Disney·Pixar film Finding Nemo.
Like the other sections of Disney's Animal Kingdom, there are animals on display. The animals, such as the American crocodile, red legged seriemas, Abdim's stork and Asian brown tortoise, have evolutionary links to the age of the dinosaurs. They are animal species that have survived since the dinosaur era and can be found along the Cretaceous Trail along with a collection of Mesozoic plants. The area was sponsored by McDonald's until 2009.
Camp Minnie-Mickey was themed as a rustic summer camp, built as a placeholder on the location where Beastly Kingdom was intended to be built. It served as a meet-and-greet for Disney characters including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Koda, and Thumper. The area's main attraction was the Festival of the Lion King, a live stage show featuring acrobatics and musical performances inspired by The Lion King. It currently plays in Africa's Harambe Theater. Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends, based on the 1995 animated film, was a live stage show that ran from April 22, 1998, to September 27, 2008. The area closed on January 5, 2014, and was replaced by Pandora – The World of Avatar.
When conceived, Disney's Animal Kingdom was to focus on three broad classifications of animals: those that exist in today's reality; those that did exist but are now extinct (i.e., dinosaurs); and those that only exist in the realm of fantasy. The original design for Animal Kingdom included a themed section called the Beastly Kingdom (possibly spelled as "Beastly Kingdomme"), devoted to creatures of legend and mythology. Camp Minnie-Mickey was built instead of Beastly Kingdom and was meant to serve as a temporary placeholder until Beastly Kingdom could be built.
In 2000, Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde said: "We had a vision and now it's become a placeholder. We have all kinds of ideas and not all of them fit with the theme of Beastly Kingdom. I'm not even convinced there will be a Beastly Kingdom."
Tusker House hosts "Donald's Safari Breakfast" and "Donald's Dining Safari Lunch," a character-dining event where guests enjoy a buffet while meeting Donald Duck and other Disney characters.
There are seven quick-service restaurants located throughout the park:
As with other Walt Disney World theme parks, Disney's Animal Kingdom has other locations and carts that offer snacks and beverages.
Much concern was brought to the animals' well-being when the park originally opened. The park typically closed earlier in the day than other parks in the Walt Disney World Resort; Animal Kingdom began to stay open through the evening on May 27, 2016.
Disney does not allow plastic straws, lids, or balloons to be used in the park, unlike the rest of the Disney parks. This is so that plastic does not inadvertently enter an animal's habitat and hurt them. Instead, the park uses paper straws and offers lids for hot drinks only.
Unlike the three other theme parks at Walt Disney World, the restrooms at Disney's Animal Kingdom all have doors at their entrances. This practice is in place for caution in the unlikely event of an animal ever escaping, this way guests will be able to keep themselves safe inside.
As a zoological park, Disney's Animal Kingdom is engaged in research and conservation efforts involving its animal species. Since the park's opening in 1998, the resident elephant herd has produced seven calves, with births in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2016. In 2008, the park's giraffe herd produced four newborns, raising the total number of giraffe births since opening to eleven.
In 1999, one of the park's white rhino gave birth to a female calf named Nande. In 2006, Nande and Hasani, another of the park's rhinos, were transferred to Uganda's Ziwa animal sanctuary, in the first attempt to re-introduce white rhinos to the country. Due to civil strife, the white rhinoceros had become extinct in the area. In June 2009, Nande gave birth to a male calf, the first such birth in Uganda in over 25 years. By January 2010, eight white rhinos had been born at Animal Kingdom since the park's opening; the most recent was born to another Animal Kingdom-born mother.
Even in planning stages, various Florida-based animal rights groups and PETA did not like the idea of Disney creating a theme park where animals were held in captivity. The groups protested, and PETA tried to convince travel agents not to book trips to the park. A few weeks before the park opened, a number of animals died due to accidents. The United States Department of Agriculture viewed most of the cases and found no violations of animal-welfare regulations. On opening day, the Orange County Sheriff's office sent about 150 deputies; about two dozen protesters showed up. The protest lasted two hours, and there were no arrests.
One year after the park opened, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida complained that a New Year's Eve fireworks show could upset the animals. A USDA inspector came to the park and found no problems with launching low-noise fireworks half a mile away.
In October 2014, a snake dropped out of a tree and bit a boy, precipitating the death of his great-grandmother who suffered cardiac arrest as a reaction to the attack. A lawsuit was threatened because of this incident but was never filed. The park confirmed that the snake that bit the boy was a non-venomous indigenous snake, and that it did not escape from an enclosure.
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