Disney has always been super sneaky in creating an environment that looks the way they want it to look, but may not always be what it seems.
When Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, Disney had to work really hard to create their ideal environment, an especially huge challenge because it involved live animals.
Let’s dive into 11 little-known facts about Animal Kingdom…
Much of the produce cultivated in Epcot’s greenhouses is utilized in that park’s restaurants, but certain items, such as oversized squash, may not be ideal for human consumption. However, these are excellent treats for the animals at Animal Kingdom.
Whenever available, the horticulturists from Epcot generously share these surplus fruits and vegetables with Animal Kingdom’s diverse animal residents. The extra food either becomes a special snack or used as enrichment.
Mountains that float
There are about 22 floating mountains in the Valley of Mo’ara.
Constructing these mountains was an engineering – or should we say Imagineering – feat. They are supported by a hidden internal steel framework that is cleverly disguised with vines and greenery so that the mountains appear to be floating.
But even though they appear to be floating, rest assured they are there to stay. The structures are actually anchored deep into the ground to ensure stability while giving the illusion of weightlessness.
Water that isn’t there
Although it may appear that the streams run the entire length of the floating mountains in Pandora, they don’t. While some of the water IS real, Disney Imagineers use a combination of actual water and strategically placed materials to create the illusion of continuous, flowing waterfalls.
This approach reduces the amount of water needed and simplifies the water management system, while still providing a breathtaking visual effect that fits seamlessly into the fantastical world of Pandora.
The lions have a hidden moat
On the Kilimanjaro Safari, the lions may look like they’re within reach, but rest assured, they’re not. A concealed moat, 18 feet deep and 21 feet wide, keeps them at bay.
The dark areas next to the road are part of the lion’s moat
But, this isn’t the only spot where Disney has used strategically placed invisible barriers.
Disney’s innovative approach to concealing animal barriers raised the bar in zoo design. Utilizing elements like water features, hidden moats, and cleverly disguised fences, Disney skillfully confines animals to their specific habitats. This clever design strategy creates the illusion that the animals are wandering freely in their natural surroundings, enhancing the visitor experience.
The iconic Tree of Life, a massive 145 feet tall and 50 feet wide structure, is entirely a product of human craftsmanship. Astonishingly, its 103,000 leaves were each individually attached by hand – each one over a foot long!
In addition to the leaves, the trunk is a total work of art – literally. From a distance it may look like regular bark but it is actually covered in over 325 animal carvings. Those carvings were done by 10 artists and 3 Imagineers and although it may look like wood, they are actually made entirely of concrete.
While many visitors aim for a morning Kilimanjaro Safari to catch active animals, Disney employs clever tactics to ensure animal visibility all day.
One way they do this is through the use of “browse”. Browse includes the nutrient rich portions of plants, like the leaves, small twigs, and buds. Because it closely resembles what the animals would find in their natural habitats, it encourages foraging. Disney places the browse in concrete feeders disguised as broken limbs and stumps, subtly encouraging animal movement.
Did you know the Oasis section of Animal Kingdom was originally to be named Genesis Gardens? This name was likely chosen to reflect the themes of beginnings and nature, aligning with the park’s overall focus on the natural world and its creatures. “Genesis,” a term often associated with the beginning or creation, seemed fitting for an entrance area designed to introduce guests to the wonders of the natural world.
Recognizing that the original name might be perceived as favoring specific religious beliefs, Disney opted to change it to “Oasis.” This name is more universally relatable and aligns well with the area’s role in the park. An oasis is typically a fertile spot in a desert where water is found, symbolizing life and refreshment. For guests entering Animal Kingdom, the Oasis serves as a tranquil introduction to the adventures that lie ahead, much like an oasis in the midst of a bustling theme park.
Bats on cue
Despite skepticism from bat experts, Disney managed to train the bats at Maharajah Jungle Trek to react to a sound signal.
Traditionally, bats are not considered easy to train, primarily due to their nocturnal nature and reliance on echolocation rather than visual cues. Their training for responsive behavior to human-induced stimuli was met with some skepticism from experts, who doubted the feasibility of such training given the bats’ natural behaviors and instincts.
Disney’s animal care experts, however, were successful in training the bats to respond to an auditory cue – specifically, a whistle. This training is a testament to the understanding of animal behavior by the Disney team.
Lion air conditioning
The lions seen on the Kilimanjaro Safaris originally came from a cooler climate in Oregon. Relocating animals to different zoological environments is a common practice, often done for reasons related to conservation, breeding programs, or animal welfare.
Upon arrival in Florida, these lions faced the challenge of adapting to a significantly warmer and more humid climate. Such environmental changes can be stressful for animals, particularly for species like lions that are not naturally adapted to humid tropical climates.
In their natural habitats, lions are accustomed to hot temperatures, but they also have ways to cope with the heat, like seeking shade or resting during the hottest parts of the day. However, as even us humans know, the humidity in Florida is a different factor and can add an extra layer of discomfort. It can be downright BRUTAL if you aren’t used to it.
To help the lions adjust and ensure their comfort and wellbeing, Disney’s Animal Kingdom implemented an innovative solution: installing air conditioning in the lions’ area. This adjustment helped to ease the transition and create an environment better suited for the lions.
Do they get a bedtime story, too?
Animals at Animal Kingdom don’t stay outside at night. Instead, every evening a sound is used for each species (beating drum, bell, etc.) which is a cue to the animals to head inside to their sleeping quarters.
While the animals sleep, the gardeners go out to plant and prune the area to keep up with the animals’ eating habits.
The boats that are no more
The Discovery River winds throughout Animal Kingdom and although you can catch a glimpse of it from the shore, you can’t go on it. But that wasn’t always the case.
The Discovery River Boats was a boat ride that took guests on a leisurely tour around the park, cruising along the Discovery River. It offered unique views of the park’s different areas and some animal exhibits. The ride was meant to be a relaxing, scenic experience rather than a thrill ride.
The Discovery River Boats faced several challenges. One major issue was that the ride lacked the excitement or engaging elements found in other park attractions, leading to lower guest interest. Disney tried to fix this by rebranding them, first to Discovery River Taxi and later to Radio Disney River Cruise. Neither of these tweaks worked, and the attraction was eventually closed in late summer 1999.
But, even though the ride is gone, some of the docks that were a part of the attraction are still there and visible.
Curious about what secrets the other parks hold? Check out our other posts!