We love so many things about spring – longer days, blooming blossoms, shedding our heavy coats. But what’s our very favorite thing about the season? It’s baby animals, hands-down. Spring is the time when many species of fuzzy, fluffy, or feathered babies make their first appearances in the world.
In honor of the season, let’s take a look at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, where babies of many species make their debuts. Although the Park welcomes new arrivals year-round, spring is a great time to see the little ones. And this spring is extra-special, as Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is celebrating its 15th anniversary!
Babies at the Park come in all shapes and sizes. Breeding programs have produced tiny Puerto Rican crested-toad tadpoles, warthogs, okapis (short-necked cousins to the giraffe), gorillas, giraffes, and oryx, among many others. So far, this year’s crop of critters includes everything from a tiny rare saddle-billed stork chick to a baby white-cheeked gibbon.
Not only are these babies seriously cute, but many of them represent endangered or threatened species and the Park’s participation in breeding programs can help to ensure their long-term survival. According to Matt Hohne, Animal Operations Director, Disney’s Animal Programs, “We have successful breeding programs for a variety of species, including more than 30 species that are part of Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plans, most of which are threatened or endangered in the wild.”
One particularly proud achievement? In 2006, Nande and Hasani, two white rhinos born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, traveled to Africa to join four others at Ziwa Sanctuary in Uganda. There they are helping to reestablish a population that had been extinct since the 1980s. Matt tells us, “In 2009 Nande became the first white rhino to give birth in Uganda in 27 years!” She had a second calf in 2011 — the first female white rhino born in Uganda in more than 30 years.
It’s an amazing success story, and you don’t need to travel to Uganda to celebrate it. Guests can see both white and black rhinos on the Kilimanjaro Safaris. And to help preserve those rhinos’ wild cousins for generations to come, The Walt Disney Company Foundation and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund have supported more than $1 million in rhino protection and research projects in partnership with nonprofit organizations throughout the world.
If you’re wondering where to see babies at the Park, the answer is all over the place! According to Matt, “It is best for the baby animals to be cared for by their parents, so babies can be found in various areas of the Park. For example, Guests can see the white-cheeked gibbon baby with his mother, father and older siblings in Asia near the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Guests also can see siamang twins (siamangs are a species of ape) with their dad in Asia on the way to Expedition Everest. Baby elephant Jabali, who will turn two years old in August, is our youngest elephant calf. He can be seen on the Kilimanjaro Safaris.”
Visiting these babies and their families is fun, but it’s also important. “Research has shown that when people see wildlife face-to-face, they feel a strong connection and are motivated to take action to protect wildlife and nature,” explains Matt. When Guests coo over that little okapi, it’s easy for them to understand why protecting okapi habitat in the wild is so important. By bringing people and wildlife face to face, the Park is continuing a legacy that began with Walt himself, helping Guests connect with nature in a personal way – one adorable arrival at a time.