The Wild Side of Disney

            When you think about the Walt Disney Company I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind is probably your favourite Disney movie, your favourite character, or your favourite ride at one of the parks.  What you may not think of is the Disney Conservation Fund and their efforts to help save the planet. Neither would I, had you asked me four months ago. This past summer I was lucky enough to work at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort, where I not only had the time of my life playing in the parks everyday and meeting the most amazing people from all over the world, but I also found a passion for conservation through the work I did and ‘a whole new world’ of Disney that I barely knew existed.

            This summer I worked in Trail Operations on Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Animal Kingdom, one of four parks at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Along this walking trail you get to see hippos, okapis, zebras, and gorillas, to name just a few of the animals that I fell in love with over the past few months. And these are real animals, and not the “Disney real” that you see on the jungle cruise ride; they are actual wild animals living in habitats that Disney has created specifically for each individual animal to ensure they are happy and comfortable. Essentially what my job consisted of was teaching the guests about the animals, answering any questions they had, and giving out conservation messages whenever possible. I didn’t realize the importance of these conservation messages when I first started working, but as I learned more about these endangered animals I realized how crucial it is to teach others about them and what they can do to help. Almost every animal that you see on the trail is currently on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and badly in need of our help, just like many of the other animals that you see throughout the rest of the Animal Kingdom Park. So that was my job: to help these animals in the best way I could by encouraging others to do the same. That’s the biggest message that Animal Kingdom is trying to get across: not only to have a wild time, but also to teach the guests the importance of conservation, which is where the Disney Conservation Fund comes in…

            The Disney Conservation Fund was established on Earth Day in 1995, and every day since then they’ve helped to “support the study of wildlife; the protection of habitats; the development of community conservation and education programs in critical ecosystems; and experiences that connect kids to nature across the globe.” This is a fund that supports over 330 non-profit organizations in 115 different countries and has provided over $40 million to help protect over 400 species. Since their recent twenty-year anniversary celebration they created a new two-part initiative called “Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time.” The first part focuses on reversing the decline of ten threatened animals by working with leading organization to help save them. Disney’s Animal, Science, and Environment team, a team I am extremely proud to say that I was a part of, will be working with these organizations to make the reversal of the decline possible. The second part focuses on increasing the time that young kids spent outside so that they can have a better connection to nature and develop a passion for conservation that they can carry with them as they grow older.

Disney gives its guests a lot of opportunities to support the Disney Conservation Fund in the parks, like selling buttons where 100% of the proceeds go to the fund. They’ve eliminated the use of lids and plastic straws (they now have paper straws) to decrease the amount of waste, and they’ve even partnered with Starbucks such that when you buy a Flat White from the shop in Animal Kingdom, the proceeds go to help save the Tamarin Monkeys! So now you have a perfect excuse to go visit Animal Kingdom… but if you are a broke university student like me and can’t quite afford a spontaneous trip to Disney World, there’s still a lot you can do at home. Here are a few things I picked up over the summer that you can do to save the planet:

  • The easiest thing is to recycle. I know this is second nature here on the island because we are lucky enough to have such a great recycling and compost system, but others are not so fortunate and have to do more than just move the blue bin to the end of the driveway once every two weeks.
  • One thing you may not think to recycle is your old phones or other electronics, and this is a big one that can help save an animal (amongst others that also live in central Africa) that holds a special place in my heart: the gorillas. They live in an area where people mine for a mineral found in our electronics (Coltan), but if we recycle our electronics they are able to reuse this mineral in newer products.
  • Another easy thing you can do to help is research any animal that you might want as a pet. Illegal pet trade is a serious issue for a lot of the smaller wild animals, so it’s really important that you know what you’re getting into when you want to buy a pet so that you can best take care of it; or you may decide not to buy it at all.

Obviously these aren’t very hard tasks, and there is plenty more you can do help. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference. If you want to learn more about the Disney Conservation Fund and what they do you can visit their website here. And because there’s no better way to end an article about Disney than to quote the man himself here’s a pretty important one…

            “You’ve probably heard people talk about conservation. Well, conservation isn’t just the business of a few people. It’s a matter that concerns all of us.”

                                                                        - Walt Disney, 1950