“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” – in a presentation to the United Nations by Baba Dioum, internationally renowned environmentalist from Senegal
The jeep pitched and swayed along the bumpy road, passed lush landscapes, immense boulders, watering holes, and open green fields. Elephants took slow labored steps, giraffes nudged each other, flamingos posed in low lying water; crocodiles, cheetahs, and lionesses lazed in the sun. It was a picture perfect day for a safari, and this 22 minute jeep ride didn’t disappoint. In less than a half hour, the 16 of us lucky riders viewed the most majestic animals that walk the planet. This time, though, they were the ones roaming free, and we – the humans – were contained, and spoke in hushed awestruck tones, in deference to them. This is Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and it is awesome.
Animals have always figured in Disney projects — why even its first venture featured a mouse! — so it’s no surprise that this park celebrates founder Walt Disney’s love and respect for all creatures. Advertised as “a world beyond belief,” and “celebrating all living things,” Animal Kingdom opened its doors on Earth Day, twenty years ago. The design behind the park began seven years prior as the creative Disney team searched for a theme to entertain and provide adventure, all with a conservation message. And rather than a traditional zoo, they wanted to provide a sanctuary for their inhabitants. The African and Asia landscape and the endangered species from those lands gave them the ideal combination. Of course, the success and crazy popularity of Disney’s The Lion King, both the Broadway show and classic movie, provided that extra boost of encouragement. At a live performance during our park visit, Pumba and Timone appeared along with some very large African animal puppets singing and dancing and carrying on for an immense and enthusiastic audience.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge, adjacent to the park, joins Disney’s roster of hotel accommodations that come with their own unique experiences. Continuing its African theme, visitors can choose the Jambo House (jambo is swahili for “hello”) with its opulent royal decor, or the more low-key Kidani Village.The day’s schedule includes African-inspired meals, drum ceremonies, and kids’ activities; there’s a watering hole by the pool, and the Hakuna Matata playground. You get the picture. Set in a horseshoe curve, the buildings overlook four savannahs — immense tropical fields – giving the animals plenty of room to graze and do what they do with protective fencing preventing guests from entering the area.
There’s a Wildlife Spotting Guide pamphlet describing the animals along with their particular characteristics. Representatives of 30 species roam the savannahs, and can be safely viewed from guest rooms and overlooks. Zebras, giraffes, hogs, vultures, wildebeest, pelican, impalas, flamingo, storks name just a few, and if you want to know more, Disney staffers are on hand to help. In a personal tour by a Disney Concierge staffer, we learned that the park is a licensed zoo, and has the zoo keeper accreditation which means that staffers go above and beyond to maintain the animals’ health and welfare, and educate the public. In a recent blog entry by the park’s Director of Animal Science Operations, Scott Terrell, we read the following: “Back in August, we were thrilled to share the news about the birth of two endangered Sumatran tiger cubs – the first tigers to be born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom… Disney is supporting the efforts of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and their partners to reverse the decline of Sumatran tigers by conducting a tiger population survey in Indonesia and taking steps to increase the wild population of Sumatran tigers by 25 percent in the next decade.”
As our day at Animal Kingdom and the Kidani Village was drawing to close, we jumped on one last ride: the Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, a zooming roller coaster that flies inside Mount Everest, and drops 80 feet, in our chase to view another creature: the evasive, Yeti, based more on myth than on fact. But maybe it is real….when Disney is involved, one never knows.
Tours to Africa are “booming,” according to a recent Forbes online story, with travelers looking for the real Africa experience: safaris (but with luxurious amenities), getting close to rare animals, its culture and history, and for a real “getaway.” Disney has embraced this concept like only Disney can, providing an exotic vacation for those unable to take extended time off, or who don’t have the budget that the real McCoy requires.
Other cultural activities include:
The Na’vi River Journey, family boat ride through the rainforest.
The Maharajah Jungle, self-guided walking tour of Southeast Asia.
Nocturnal Encounters, explore the wilds of the Harambe Wildlife Preserve after sundown.
Like all Disney parks, one needs more than one day to enjoy the gazillion other activities, rides, shows, and exhibits, so consider their discounted multi-day ticket packages. For more information go to the website for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
For tips on gaining access to park activities faster, without the long wait – a MUST to get the most out of your Disney day – go to the website for Disney fast pass.
Photo credits: MJ Hanley-Goff.
It’s no secret 2016, is shaping up to be a very…ahem…exciting election season. Besides such issues of income inequality, the Supreme Court, reproductive justice, foreign policy, and so forth the increasingly dire news about global warming is weighing on many people’s minds-and makes Earth Day this year seem more weighted with symbolism than usual. Here are some more films that deal with environmental issues.
Erin Brockovich (2000) The biography of the real life Brockovich who successfully spearheaded a lawsuit against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company for polluting the water of Hinckley, California was a commercial and critical success that was nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Soderberg) and won Julia Roberts the Oscar for Best Actress in the titular role of feisty single mom Erin. Albert Finney, Peter Coyote, Aaron Eckhart, all provide stellar performances as well.
Being Caribou (2005) Husband and wife team Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison spent five months following the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd. Allison an environmentalist and Heuer a wildlife biologist were weighing in on the Arctic Refuge Drilling controversy, by demonstrating how such drilling threatened the herd’s survival since their natural calving grounds are within the Refuge. Being Caribou won scores of awards including a Gemini Award and most popular Canadian film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Happy Feet (2006) Every emperor penguin sings a ‘heartsong’ to attract a mate, but when Memphis (Hugh Jackman) manages to drop the egg while his mate Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) is away their son Mumble (Elijah Wood) hatches without the gift of son. He can however, tap dance! While the main focus of this animated musical comedy is on Mumble’s struggle for acceptance, the driving catalyst is how over-fishing by man in the Antarctic waters has put the entire penguin colony at risk of starvation. Happy Feet won the BAFTA for Best Animated Film, the Saturn award for Best Animated Film, AND was the first Warner Brothers production to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Food Inc. (2008) This documentary directed by the Emmy nominated Robert Kenner examines the costs of industrial meat production and corporate farming in the U.S. It’s narrated by Michael Pollan author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eric Schlosser author of Fast Food Nation. Interview subjects include food activists, former politicians, organic food executives and more. Food Inc. was nominated for both the Independent Spirit Award and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Virunga (2014) Directed by Orlando von Einseidel, Virunga chronicles the fight to save the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from oil exploration. It primarily focuses on four figures: gorilla caregiver Andre Bauma; park warden Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo; chief warden Emmanuel de Merode; and French investigative journalist Melanie Gouby. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and after airing on Netflix it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
With Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, a lot of us are thinking more about the state of the planet. Indeed some people have even gone so far to write entire books around it. Here are some more examples; and to be super eco- friendly you can try downloading them on Kindle. (Or at least getting a copy from the library.)
Yosemite by John Muir (1912) Famous Scottish born naturalist and Sierra Club founder Muir, wrote the timeless account of his travels through the High Sierras, and its majestic beautiful and incredible wildlife. This text was also part of Muir’s successful efforts to preserve the area by establishing Yosemite National Park which would be designated a World Heritage Site in 1984.
Bambi by Felix Salten (1923) Long before there was the classic Disney film there was the book by Austrian writer Salten detailing the coming of age of a young roe deer-and the evils of human hunters. Critics now believe Bambi to be one of the first environmental novels and Salten would publish a sequel, Bambi’s Children in 1939
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949) This series of essays by American ecologist, forester, and environmentalist Aldo Leopold that combines natural history, scene painting, and philosophy to advocate for land ethics. The collection was published a year after Leopold’s death by his son and is now considered a landmark of the American conservation movement.
Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith (1999) In 1989, brilliant botanist A.E. Bartram is invited to join a field study in Yellowstone National Park. The study’s leader is shocked to find out that Bartram is a woman but on the advice of his mother he goes ahead with the expedition anyway along with some other colorful characters to catalogue the natural wonders of the park. Smith gives us a scrupulously researched and beautifully written tale told entirely through the epistolary style that deals with the intricacies of science, nature, economics, and human relationships all at once.
Saints at the River by Ron Rash (2004) Saints begins with the tragic drowning of a 12 year old girl in the Tamassee River that marks the boundary between Georgia and South Carolina. From there on told from the point of view of young photographer Maggie Glenn who covers the story. Along the way we see how the broader community becomes split over the environmental issues poised by the question of whether to remove the body or leave it where it is. It won the Weatherford Award for Best Novel and is also assigned summer reading for incoming freshman at Clemson University, Temple University, and University of Central Florida.