Disney's Animal Kingdom

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Disney's Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom TPark Color.svg
LocationWalt Disney World Resort, Bay Lake, Florida, United States
Coordinates28°21′29″N 81°35′24″W / 28.358°N 81.59°W / 28.358; -81.59Coordinates: 28°21′29″N 81°35′24″W / 28.358°N 81.59°W / 28.358; -81.59
ThemeNatural environment and animal conservation
OwnerDisney Parks, Experiences and Products
(The Walt Disney Company)
Operated byWalt Disney World
OpenedApril 22, 1998; 23 years ago (1998-04-22)[1]
Operating seasonYear-round
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata

Disney's Animal Kingdom is a zoological theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida, near Orlando. Owned and operated by The Walt Disney Company through its Parks, Experiences and Products division, it is the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres (230 ha).[2][3][4] The park opened on Earth Day, April 22, 1998, and was the fourth theme park built at the resort. The park is dedicated and themed entirely around the natural environment and animal conservation, a philosophy once pioneered by Walt Disney himself.[5]

Disney's Animal Kingdom is distinguished from the rest of Walt Disney World's theme parks in that it features traditional attractions while also exhibiting hundreds of species of live animals. Due to these sensitive conditions, special designs and provisions were incorporated throughout the park to protect the animals' welfare. The park is located on the western edge of the resort, and is isolated from the resort's other theme parks and properties to minimize external disruptions to the animals; as a result, the park's nighttime show also features no fireworks that would otherwise disturb the animals. The park also uses biodegradable paper straws and prohibits plastic straws, lids, and balloons. Disney's Animal Kingdom is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which indicates they have met or exceeded the standards in education, conservation, and research.[6]

In 2019, Disney's Animal Kingdom hosted 13.888 million guests, ranking it as the third-most-visited theme park in North America and the sixth-most-visited theme park in the world.[7] The park's icon is the Tree of Life, a 145-foot-tall (44 m), 50-foot-wide (15 m) artificial baobab tree. The park is the second-most-visited at Walt Disney World Resort, behind the Magic Kingdom.[8]


Planning and construction[edit]

Disney began planning a new park shortly after the opening of MGM Studios in 1989.[9] Animal Kingdom was the brainchild of Imagineer Joe Rohde, who had previously designed the Adventurers Club at Pleasure Island.[10] When presenting the idea of the new animal-themed park, Rohde brought a 400-pound Bengal tiger into the meeting with Disney CEO Michael Eisner.[11] Originally slated as Disney's "Wild Animal Kingdom," Disney announced plans for the construction of the park in 1995 at an estimated cost of $600-$800 million. To design the theme park, Disney Imagineers traveled to Africa and Asia to study the landscapes and wildlife.

In July 1996, construction was underway on the animal holding facilities as well as the installation of trees, shrubs, and grasses to shape the park's African Savanna-inspired landscape.[12] Disney Imagineers collected seeds from 37 countries to be used for the plants and grasses in the park.[13] The landscaping efforts included spreading four million cubic yards of dirt, planting 40,000 mature trees (a mix of real Savanna species and artificial Baobab trees[14]), constructing 60 miles of underground utilities, waterways, and structures built by over 2,600 construction workers.[11] Many buildings contained thatched roofs assembled by Zulu workers from South Africa.[14] About 1,500 hand-painted wooden horses were crafted in Bali under Disney supervision.[11] Parts of the park were designed to look "aged", with artificial potholes in the safari roads and boats peppered with dents and rust.[11]

Most of the park's animals were acquired by fall 1997; they were held at a rented holding facility in North Florida for quarantine and observation.[12] Disney hired staff from 69 zoos around the United States to care for the animals.[9]


The park opened to the public on April 22, 1998. Several marketing events surrounded the day. ABC aired a two-hour prime time special about the making of Animal Kingdom, as part of its The Wonderful World of Disney anthology series.[11] Disney CEO Michael D. Eisner and Vice Chairman Roy Disney hosted an opening day party for 14,000 corporate partners, travel agents, and media figures, which included celebrities such as Michael J. Fox, Drew Carey, Stevie Wonder, David Copperfield, and Jane Goodall.[15] Broadcasts of Good Morning America, Today and Live with Regis and Kathie Lee aired live from the park on April 22.[15] ABC also filmed an episode Sabrina the Teenage Witch at Animal Kingdom before the opening of the park; the episode, named "Disneyworld", aired two days after the park's opening.[16]

In 2011, Disney announced a major expansion to the park, Pandora - The World of Avatar, a joint venture with director James Cameron and his production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, with the intention of transforming Animal Kingdom into a full-day operation with added attraction capacity and nighttime experiences.[17] Construction on the area began on January 10, 2014,[18] and the land opened to the public on May 27, 2017.[19]

The park was closed from March 16 to July 11, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida.[20][21]


Disney's Animal Kingdom is divided into seven themed areas. The park's Discovery River separates Discovery Island from the other lands.


The Oasis is the park's logistic equivalent to Main Street U.S.A. and provides the transition from the park's entrance to the world of animals. The main paths feature animal exhibits and dense vegetation and trees lead deeper into the park and then onto Discovery Island.

Between the parking lot and the Oasis sits a Rainforest Cafe, which can be entered from both inside and outside the ticketed area.[22]

Discovery Island[edit]

Scarlet macaws at Discovery Island

Discovery Island is located at the center of the park, and is an island within the park's Discovery River waterway. It serves as the "central hub" connecting the other sections of the park by bridges, with the exception of Rafiki's Planet Watch. It was originally called Safari Village, as Discovery Island was the name for the small zoological park located in Walt Disney World's Bay Lake, but renamed after that area closed in 1999.

The Tree of Life, the park's sculpted, man-made baobab tree, is located in this section and is surrounded by trails and animal enclosures. Inside the Tree of Life is It's Tough to Be a Bug!, a 4D film inspired by the 1998 Disney·Pixar animated film, A Bug's Life.

The park's largest gift shops and two of its major restaurants are on Discovery Island.[23]

Pandora – The World of Avatar[edit]

Pandora – The World of Avatar is themed to the fictional alien exoplanetary moon, Pandora, from James Cameron's Avatar. The land's marquee attraction is Avatar Flight of Passage, a 3D flying simulator that allows guests to fly on a banshee across the Pandoran landscape.[24] Another attraction, the Na'vi River Journey, places guests aboard a boat ride through Pandora's bioluminescent rainforests.[25][26] The area opened on May 27, 2017.[27][28]


An actress performing in the Festival of the Lion King

Africa is one of the original areas of the park. Set in the fictional east African port village of Harambe, this area contains several animal exhibits.[23] Some snippets from Africa that were duplicated by the Disney Imagineers are a fortress that was found in Zanzibar and a water-stained crumbling old building that was found in Kenya. Harambe includes a "hotel," restaurants, an outdoor bar that has live entertainment, and different marketplaces.

Sign for the fictional African port of Harambe in Disney World

The village is the namesake of the Harambe Wildlife Preserve, the fictional home of Africa's main attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris. Guests climb aboard an open-sided safari vehicle for an expedition to see African species in savanna, rivers and rocky hills. The safari features okapis, greater kudus, saddle-billed storks, bongos, black rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, pink-backed pelicans, Nile crocodiles, Masai giraffes, Hartmann's mountain zebras, blue wildebeests, springboks, Ankole cattle, common elands, sable antelopes, and African bush elephants.

On the adjacent Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, visitors trek into the forest where animals such as black-and-white colobus monkeys, gerenuks, gorillas, hippos, Kenyan sand boas, kori bustards, Grévy's zebras, meerkats, chimpanzees, naked mole-rats, okapis, tarantulas, and yellow-backed duikers, as well as an aviary, are located.[29]

On the western side of Africa is the Harambe Theater, which is home to the Festival of the Lion King, a stage attraction based on Disney's 1994 film, The Lion King.

Rafiki's Planet Watch[edit]

Rafiki's Planet Watch is the only section of the park not connected to Discovery Island; it connects only to Africa. Guests board the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge Wildlife Express Train for the short trip to and from the area, which consists of three sub-areas.

Guests first encounter Habitat Habit!, where they can see cotton-top tamarins and learn about the efforts to protect these endangered primates in their natural homes. Along the way, guests can also learn how to provide animal habitats in and around their own homes.

Conservation Station showcases the various conservation efforts supported by the Walt Disney Company. It also gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Disney's Animal Kingdom's animal care facilities, including a veterinary examination room complete with a two-way communications system so the veterinary staff can answer guest questions.

Outside, Affection Section is a petting zoo featuring goats, sheep, cattle, domestic pigs, donkeys, and alpacas.

The area temporarily closed on October 21, 2018,[30] and later reopened in July 2019, featuring The Animation Experience at Conservation Station.[31][32]


Entrance sign

Asia, the first expansion area added to Disney's Animal Kingdom, first opened in 1999. This area is set in the fictional kingdom of Anandapur (which means "Place of many delights" in Sanskrit). Anandapur evokes the traits of Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, and Thailand. According to Disney history, Anandapur was established as a royal hunting preserve in 1544. Anandapur contains both the riverside village of Anandapur, and Serka Zong, which is set in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Portraits of Anandapur's royal family (consisting of the maharaja and his wife) can be found in most of the businesses within the two villages, a map of the kingdom featuring both villages and their location relative to the mountains and river can be found on the wall of the Disney Vacation Club kiosk located there. Much like Harambe, Anandapur is now a center of animal research and tourism.

The visual focal point of Asia is Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, a steel roller coaster ride through the Forbidden Mountain of the Himalayas where passengers encounter a Yeti. Nearby is Kali River Rapids, a river rapids ride along the Chakranadi River through a rainforest, past an illegal logging operation and down a waterfall. The Maharajah Jungle Trek leads guests through the forests and ruins outside the village, which are home to species such as bantengs, bar-headed geese, Sumatran tigers, blackbucks, orangutans, Eld's deer, gibbons, Large flying foxes, Komodo dragons and over 50 bird species.[citation needed] UP! A Great Bird Adventure Show, a live bird show where one of Anandapur's bird researchers educates Russell and Dug from Up, about natural bird behaviors and the effects of habitat loss and conservation efforts on bird species, such as the black crowned crane and bald eagle.

DinoLand U.S.A.[edit]

DinoLand U.S.A. is themed around dinosaurs and other extinct prehistoric life. The area is anchored by the Dino Institute, a fictitious palaeontological facility which is home to Dinosaur, a dark thrill ride loosely inspired by the 2000 Disney animated film of the same name, featuring a harrowing trip through time to the Late Cretaceous Period. Just outside the institute is "Dino-Sue", a casting of a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil that is the most complete yet found. At the nearby Boneyard, there is a multi-leveled playground area with a Columbian mammoth fossil to be uncovered and a cast skeleton of a Brachiosaurus. Adjacent to the Institute and its surrounding facilities, is Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama, which recalls the many roadside attractions that were once scattered throughout the United States, being constructed by the owners of an old gas station hoping to take advantage of the tourism business the institute has brought in. The area features the TriceraTop Spin aerial carousel ride, carnival games and gift shops. At the eastern edge of DinoLand U.S.A. is the Theater in the Wild, which hosts Finding Nemo – The Musical, a live-action musical stage show based on the story of the 2003 Disney·Pixar animated film Finding Nemo.

Like the other sections of Disney's Animal Kingdom, there are animals on display. The animals, such as the American crocodile, red legged seriemas, Abdim's stork and Asian brown tortoise, have evolutionary links to the age of the dinosaurs. They are animal species that have survived since the dinosaur era and can be found along the Cretaceous Trail along with a collection of Mesozoic plants. The area was sponsored by McDonald's until 2009.[33]

Former and unbuilt areas[edit]

Camp Minnie-Mickey[edit]

Camp Minnie-Mickey was themed as a rustic summer camp, built as a placeholder on the location where Beastly Kingdom was intended to be built. It served as a meet-and-greet for Disney characters including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Koda, and Thumper. The area's main attraction was the Festival of the Lion King, a live stage show featuring acrobatics and musical performances inspired by The Lion King. It currently plays in Africa's Harambe Theater. Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends, based on the 1995 animated film, was a live stage show that ran from April 22, 1998, to September 27, 2008. The area closed on January 5, 2014, and was replaced by Pandora – The World of Avatar.[34]

Beastly Kingdom[edit]

When conceived, Disney's Animal Kingdom was to focus on three broad classifications of animals: those that exist in today's reality; those that did exist but are now extinct (i.e., dinosaurs); and those that only exist in the realm of fantasy.[35] The original design for Animal Kingdom included a themed section called the Beastly Kingdom (possibly spelled as "Beastly Kingdomme"), devoted to creatures of legend and mythology. During the final stages of planning of development, Michael Eisner decided that either Beastly Kingdom or Dinoland USA would be built first, due budget cuts after the failure of Euro Disney (known today as Disneyland Paris) and the higher cost of the upkeep and care of the animals at the park.[36] Dinoland USA was chosen first mostly due to its low budget concept but, in addition, Camp Minnie-Mickey was built instead of Beastly Kingdom and was meant to serve as a temporary placeholder until Beastly Kingdom could be built. Disney's Animal Kingdom also opened with river boats that showcased the more mythical elements soon to be in the parks, including a unicorn statue, a mention of the Dinosaur Animated movie, and images of knights near a dragon's cave.[37]

Beastly Kingdom was to feature mythical animals such as unicorns, dragons, and sea monsters, featuring realms of both good and evil creatures:

  • The evil side was to be dominated by Dragon Tower, a ruined castle home to a greedy fire-breathing dragon who hoarded a fabulous treasure in the tower chamber. The castle was also inhabited by bats who planned to rob the dragon of his riches. They were to enlist the guests' help in their scheme and whisk them off on a thrilling suspended roller coaster ride through the castle ruins. The climax of the ride was to be an encounter with the evil dragon himself, resulting in a nearly barbecued train of guests.[38]
  • The good side was to be home to Quest of the Unicorn, an adventure that would send guests through a maze of medieval mythological creatures to seek the hidden grotto where the unicorn lives. Finally, the Fantasia Gardens attraction was to be a musical boat ride through animal scenes from the 1940 Disney animated film Fantasia. The ride was to feature both the crocodiles and hippos from "Dance of the Hours" and the Pegasus, fauns, and centaurs from Beethoven's "The Pastoral Symphony."[35][39]

In 2000, Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde said: "We had a vision and now it's become a placeholder. We have all kinds of ideas and not all of them fit with the theme of Beastly Kingdom. I'm not even convinced there will be a Beastly Kingdom."[40]

Restaurants and shops[edit]

Tusker House in Africa section.
Rainforest Cafe at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

The park contains four table service restaurants:

  • Rainforest Cafe, a themed restaurant chain operated by Landry's, located just outside the main entrance (also accessible from inside the park).
  • Yak & Yeti, an Asian-themed restaurant located in the park's Asia section (operated by Landry's Restaurants) that opened on November 14, 2007.
  • Tusker House, located in Africa and one of the park's original quick-service restaurants, was converted into a buffet restaurant and re-opened on November 17, 2007.
  • Tiffins, located on Discovery Island, was opened on May 27, 2016 and features the themed Nomad Lounge adjacent to it.

Tusker House hosts "Donald's Safari Breakfast" and "Donald's Dining Safari Lunch," a character-dining event where guests enjoy a buffet while meeting Donald Duck and other Disney characters.

There are seven quick-service restaurants located throughout the park:

  • Flame Tree Barbecue on Discovery Island
  • Pizzafari on Discovery Island
  • Satu'li Canteen in Pandora – The World of Avatar
  • Restaurantosaurus in DinoLand USA
  • Tamu Tamu Refreshments in Africa
  • Harambe Market in Africa
  • Yak & Yeti Local Foods Café in Asia

As with other Walt Disney World theme parks, Disney's Animal Kingdom has other locations and carts that offer snacks and beverages.


The park typically closes earlier in the day than other parks in the Walt Disney World Resort; Animal Kingdom began to stay open through the evening on May 27, 2016.[41]

Disney does not allow plastic straws, lids, or balloons to be used in the park, unlike the rest of the Disney parks. This is so that plastic does not inadvertently enter an animal's habitat and hurt them. Instead, the park uses biodegradable paper straws and offers lids for hot drinks only.[42]

Unlike the three other theme parks at Walt Disney World, the restrooms at Disney's Animal Kingdom all have doors at their entrances. This practice is in place so that, in the unlikely event of an animal ever escaping, guests are able to keep themselves safe inside.[43]

Conservation efforts[edit]

As a zoological park, Disney's Animal Kingdom is engaged in research and conservation efforts involving its animal species. Since the park's opening in 1998, the resident elephant herd has produced seven calves, with births in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008,[44] 2010,[45] 2011 and 2016. In 2008, the park's giraffe herd produced four newborns, raising the total number of giraffe births since opening to eleven.[46]

In 1999, one of the park's white rhinoceros gave birth to a female calf named Nande.[47] In 2006, Nande and Hasani, another of the park's rhinos, were transferred to Uganda's Ziwa animal sanctuary, in the first attempt to re-introduce white rhinos to the country. Due to civil strife, the white rhinoceros had become extinct in the area.[47] In June 2009, Nande gave birth to a male calf, the first such birth in Uganda in over 25 years.[47] By January 2010, eight white rhinos had been born at Animal Kingdom since the park's opening; the most recent was born to another Animal Kingdom-born mother.[48]


Several Florida-based animal rights groups and PETA voiced concerns when the park originally opened, citing Walt Disney World's previous missteps in handling animals at the now-defunct Discovery Island.[49] The groups protested, and PETA tried to convince travel agents not to book trips to the park.[50] On opening day, the Orange County Sheriff's office sent about 150 deputies; about two dozen protesters showed up. The protest lasted two hours, and there were no arrests.[51]

Following a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection of the park, it was revealed that 31 animals died at Animal Kingdom between September 1997 and April 1998 due to accidents, poisonings, fights, and other causes.[52] Two Asian small-clawed otters died after ingesting loquat seeds from trees planted in their exhibit, two cheetah cubs died from ethylene glycol poisoning, nine herd animals died due to injuries from fights, being entangled in fences while trying to escape, and, in one case, being kicked by an ostrich.[52] Two crowned cranes were killed after being run over by safari vehicles in two separate incidents.[52] The USDA ultimately found no violations of animal-welfare regulations.[53] Disney responded to the report by hiring additional security to prevent animals from fighting, relocating the crowned cranes to walking paths, as well as adding mirrors to the safari vehicles.[52]

One year after the park opened, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida complained that a New Year's Eve fireworks show could upset the animals. A USDA inspector came to the park and found no problems with launching low-noise fireworks half a mile away.[54]

In January 2015, the animal rights group In Defense of Animals listed the park at number 10 on its 2014 "list of worst zoos for elephants."[55]


In October 2014, a snake dropped out of a tree and bit a boy, precipitating the death of his great-grandmother who suffered a cardiac arrest as a reaction to the attack. A lawsuit was threatened because of the incident, but was never filed. The park confirmed that the snake that bit the boy was a non-venomous indigenous snake and that it did not escape from an enclosure.[56]


2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Worldwide rank
10,198,000[57] 10,402,000 [58] 10,922,000[59] 10,844,000 [60] 12,500,000[61] 13,750,000[62] 13,888,000[7] 6

See also[edit]


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