On Earth Day, April 22, 1998, Walt Disney World Resort invited guests to discover a one-of-a-kind theme park where they could be inspired by the magic of the natural world. The opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park introduced a whole new way to appreciate, enjoy and interact with animals while also delivering incredible new stories that celebrated our relationship with the environment. The fourth Walt Disney World theme park was also Disney’s largest, spreading over 500 acres and adding a new draw to Central Florida as a top tourist destination in the world.
An Entirely New Kind of Theme Park
Disney’s Animal Kingdom combined Walt Disney’s love of animals, both real and imaginary, with exciting attractions, spectacular stage shows and entertaining characters.
True, there were – and are – breathtaking animal encounters, from an African safari adventure to a meandering, mystical trail that leads guests on an exciting search for tigers, to live shows highlighting animal behaviors and beauty – and so much more. But this park was also a way for Disney to inspire people with the spectacular breadth and beauty of nature and animals through the power of entertainment and attractions, including a hysterical 3D journey into the world of insects (It’s Tough to Be a Bug!), a larger-than-life musical celebrating the circle of life (Festival of the Lion King), and encounters with beloved characters.
Everything in Disney’s Animal Kingdom takes inspiration from nature and the animal world. For example, the park icon – the towering Tree of Life – features 337 sculpted animals in its trunk. Similarly, building architecture, light poles, benches and countless other elements feature animal designs that range from subtle to dramatic. Nowhere else are animals so richly and creatively celebrated.
Over the last 25 years, the park has continually evolved with new attractions, entertainment and even entirely new lands such as Asia and Pandora – The World of Avatar, giving guests new reasons to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom and all of Central Florida again and again.
Expansions introduced new wild adventures that send guests swirling on a whirling white-water raft ride (Kali River Rapids), rocketing on a runaway-train adventure (Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain), diving into another stellar musical stage show (Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond!), taking flight on a banshee (Avatar Flight of Passage) and exploring a bioluminescent rainforest (Na’vi River Journey).
More than 5,000 cast members at Disney’s Animal Kingdom continue the park’s mission today, from scientists and animal care experts, to critical frontline cast members who work in operations, entertainment, merchandise, food and beverage and guest services. They are among the 75,000 cast members who are the heart of Walt Disney World.
Celebrating the Park’s 25th Anniversary and Earth Day
In celebration of the park’s milestone anniversary and Earth Day, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy new limited-time sweet and savory treats, specialty merchandise and a character sighting. Visitors can dig into tempting treats such as the Colossal Elephant Roll, a jumbo cinnamon bun with banana caramel, milk chocolate crispy pearls, and 25th anniversary logo available at Isle of Java and Kusafiri Bakery on April 22 only; and the 25th Anniversary Alive with Magic Cupcake Vanilla cake featuring chocolate toffee mousse, chocolate buttercream, white chocolate crispy pearls, and an Alive with Magic 25th anniversary chocolate logo. Taking the magic of the celebration home is easy with commemorative items like the 25th anniversary mini Loungefly backpack, special pins, shirts, a tumbler and more.
There will be more surprises on April 22 when the park officially turns 25. And, just in time for the festivities, Moana will begin greeting guests at Discovery Island Character Landing for the first time that day.
Helping the Animals It Celebrates
Over the past 25 years, Disney has made significant contributions to the preservation and wellbeing of animals and the environments around us – not only at the theme park, but also around the community, state and globe. Most recently, Disney announced a $500,000 donation to five conservation organizations in Florida to help make a happier, healthier planet possible for all: Conservation Florida, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Lake Nature Center and Wekiva Wilderness Trust.
With each organization receiving $100,000, these grants made a number of projects possible – from expanding land protection initiatives, to ensuring healthy tree canopy coverage in underserved communities, finding solutions to clean drinking water for those in need and funding educational opportunities for youth in our community.
“At Disney, we believe building a brighter, more sustainable future starts with imagining what’s possible. Through our conservation and sustainability programs, we take tangible actions to inspire change around the globe,” says Dr. Mark Penning, vice president, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks. “I’m proud of our animal care cast members who are the most passionate conservationists I know and who put their hearts into taking care of the animals at Walt Disney World every day.”
As an accredited institution of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Disney’s Animal Kingdom has also collaborated with other AZA members to help increase populations of endangered and extinct in the wild species, such as the Guam rail and Guam kingfisher birds. Following AZA Species Survival Plans, the park has welcomed a variety of animals from endangered species into the world, including Sumatran tigers, western lowland gorillas, African elephants, cotton-top tamarins and okapi to name just a few. In fact, Disney’s Animal Nutrition Center has served as a model kitchen for a number of other AZA-accredited facilities who have adopted many of the nutritional diets developed specifically for the animals here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Today, 45 animals that have been at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since opening day or before still reside at the park.
The Disney Conservation Fund
Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Disney Conservation Fund are deeply rooted in Walt Disney’s passion and the respect he displayed for animals and nature throughout his life. Together, they are engaged in research and conservation efforts involving at-risk animal populations and species.
Through the generous support of Disney’s Animal Kingdom guests, the Disney Conservation Fund has worked with leading conservation organizations around the world to stabilize and increase populations of at-risk animals, including butterflies, corals, monkeys and sea turtles. Since its creation in 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund has directed $125 million and the expertise of dedicated Disney teams to support organizations working with communities to save wildlife, inspire action and protect the planet.
For more information on how Disney cares for animals and helps protect species in the wild, visit DisneyAnimals.com. And seasons one and two of “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” streaming on Disney+, give viewers unprecedented access to some of the most rare and beautiful creatures on the planet and a chance to meet the animal care experts who have formed remarkable bonds with the park’s thousands of animals.
Guests can visit DisneyWorld.com/AnimalKingdom for more information about planning their visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.
Here is a look back at 25 milestone moments in the park’s 25-year history:
April 22, 1995
- The Disney Conservation Fund was established to start supporting the protection of wildlife and wild places around the world.
June 20, 1995
- Plans for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park are announced. The new park will feature a combination of thrilling rides, exotic landscapes and close encounters with wild animals and promises an entirely new kind of guest experience.
August 4, 1995
- Groundbreaking takes place for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
April 26, 1997
- Two two-year-old reticulated giraffes, Miles and Zari, are the first animals to arrive at the park.
October 5, 1997
- A baby kudu is the first animal born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
April 21, 1998
- Roy E. Disney joins Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner at the park’s dedication ceremony, which features a musical salute to animals.
April 22, 1998
- On Earth Day, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened its doors with a colorful ceremony celebrating animals real, ancient and imagined.
- The park receives accreditation from Association of Zoos and Aquariums (formerly American Zoo and Aquarium Association).
March 1, 1999
- Grand Opening of Asia, which includes Kali River Rapids and Maharajah Jungle Trek, takes place.
May 17, 2000
- Dino-Sue, an exact replica of the largest and most complete and Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil found up to that time, goes on display in DinoLand U.S.A.
- Conservation Station becomes Rafiki’s Planet Watch and continues to share with guests an in-depth look at animal habitats around the globe and the expert veterinary care animals receive at the park.
April 7, 2006
- Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain opens, thrilling guests with a high-speed journey through the Himalayan Mountains while avoiding the clutches of the mythic Yeti.
April 22, 2007
- Inaugural “Party for the Planet,” the park’s annual Earth Day celebration, takes place.
June 1, 2013
- Wilderness Explorers program debuts, letting guests follow in the footsteps of Russell from the Disney Pixar film “Up” to earn adventure badges around the park.
May 27, 2016
- Tiffins Restaurant and Nomad Lounge open, offering immersive dining experiences inspired by the world travels of the park’s creators.
May 27, 2017
- Pandora – The World of Avatar opens as the largest addition in the history of the park. This award-winning land, which features Pandora’s trademark floating mountains and glowing bioluminescence, lets guests step into the world of James Cameron’s “Avatar.”
April 22, 2018
- The park’s 20th Anniversary is marked with “Party for the Planet” event on Earth Day.
November 18, 2019
- New holiday offerings, including the whimsical Merry Menagerie artisan-made puppets on Discovery Island, debut.
July 11, 2020
- Character flotillas arrive along Discovery River, giving guests an opportunity to view and interact with beloved characters.
September 25, 2020
- “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom” debuts on Disney+. The eight-part docuseries gives viewers an all-access backstage pass to meet the animal care experts who have formed bonds with the park’s thousands of animals.
October 26, 2020
- Ranger is born, the first of three white rhino calves born at the park in a 13-month period.
September 15, 2021
- Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment begins participation in American Institute of Rhinoceros Science multi-year research project designed to ensure that rhinos thrive in managed care.
June 10, 2022
- The updated musical stage production “Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!” debuts.
January 1, 2023
- Season 2 of “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom” debuts on National Geographic, followed by all episodes streaming on Disney+ Jan. 4.
April 22, 2023
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebrates 25 Years of Magic on Earth Day.
SOURCE Walt Disney World