20 Facts For Animal Kingdom's 20th Birthday

20 Facts For Animal Kingdom's 20th Birthday

Disney’s Animal Kingdom turned 20 this year, opening on Earth Day 1998, it represented Disney’s first foray into live animals. Ever since the first Jungle Cruise Walt always wanted live animals in Disneyland.

I’ve compiled a list of 20-ish facts to celebrate the parks 20th birthday.

1. The Tree of Life

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is an incredibly complex structure, consisting of 8,692 branches connected to 102,583 leaves. The tree is built on top an offshore oil rig platform designed to withstand the hurricane force winds of central Florida.

The tree is made up of repeatable shapes which were rotated to produce its organic shape. There are 32 balls hooked onto 2 types of tertiary branches, which in turn attached to 45 secondary branches, then 756 tertiary branches, and finally 7891 end branches.

It took 10 artists to create the 324 animal carvings of the trunk and larger branches.

2. Size isn’t everything but …

Animal Kingdom is Disney’s largest theme park. It covers more than 500 acres, 110 of which is taken up by Kilimanjaro Safaris. For scale that single ride is larger than the whole of the Magic Kingdom.

3. It took a big team

At the peak of construction, there were around 2400 workers on site a day. 4 million cubic yards of Earth were moved and the park has over 60 miles of underground utilities mostly centered around Discovery Island, allowing easy future expansion.

4. It’s all about the animals


Starting with the first animals, 2 giraffes named Miles and Zari, the park has spread to having over 1700 animals covering 250 different species. All these animals consume around 4 tonnes of food per day.

5. … and the plants

There are over 4 million plants inside Animal Kingdom. The Imagineers traveled the world collecting seeds for animal enclosures. The majority of the plants were grown offsite and shipped/planted into the park 2 years before opening so they had the opportunity to become established before the animals arrived and ate them.

6. Everest tops them all

Expedition Everest

Upon Expedition Everest construction in 2011 it was the most expensive rollercoaster ever built. The mountain was constructed just shy of the 200-foot limit which would have required a flashing red light for aviation.

The ‘life-size’ Yeti at the heart of the ride used to be animated. However, the Yeti’s animated movement caused the foundations to crack and it was unfortunately switched off for safety. Due to the position inside the ride, it would be impossible to fix without removing half of the mountain.

If you want to see the Yeti in action be sure to check out the following video.

7. Dinoland


The skeleton which covers the entrance to Dinoland is fabricated from a cast of bones found by the staff of the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology in Canada. When the Imagineers when to visit they also snagged up a lot of the old used tools to use as props around Dinoland.

8. The park got off to a rocky start

Beastly Kingdom Concept Art

Animal Kingdom was designed and built when Micheal Eisner was at the helm of The Walt Disney Company. He reigned over a massive expansion of Disney parks building MGM studios (now Hollywood Studios), Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris), Disney’s California Adventure Park, and Disney-MGM Studios (opening as Walt Disney Studio Park in Disneyland Paris).

Disneyland Paris wasn’t performing well and this led to budget cuts throughout the park division. These hit Animal Kingdom, the biggest victim was the Beastly Kingdom (image above).

9. ‘Disney Real’

The savanna is home to a few ‘Disney real’ props including the Baobab tree and termite mounds, these termite mounds are cleverly used to hide the animal feeders and water supplies.

10. Flamingo Island looks familiar

Flamingo Island - Google Maps As you ride Kilimanjaro Safaris have you ever noticed what shape the island is? It’s a hidden Mickey, which you can just make out from the Google Earth picture above.

11. What happened to Dinosaur

There were two original E-ticket attractions for Dinoland in Animal Kingdom one was called Excavator, a traditional roller coaster. The second was a family-friendly ride which took you back in time so you could meet the dinosaurs. However, developing new rides and ride systems are expensive, Imagineers were encouraged to find a different solution. Disney reused their new concept fresh from the Indiana Jones Adventure, Disneyland, and reskinned the ride.

You can read more of what happened in “What happened to Dinosaur”.

12. Scaring the board

When pitching Animal Kingdom to the executives the Imagineering team wanted to demonstrate how exciting animal encounters could be, throwing away the preconceptions of past trips to the zoo. Unknown to the board in the meeting room a tiger and handler was bought into the room. The handler guided the tiger around the room on a short lease, possibly frightening the board and showing them how exhilarating animal encounters could be.

13. Built like Jurassic Park

That’s what the operations director, Rick Barongi said when the park opened. The elephant enclosure is constructed to withstand the 10,000 pounds of force a bull elephant is capable of inflicting.

At the time of construction, the enclosures were the best that could be built. Animal Kingdom didn’t have the restraints of typical zoos, which had to repurpose old buildings. Each one of the Animal Kingdom buildings was built from the ground up to be designed for the animals and the keepers to give the best care possible.

14. It’s tough to be a bug!

It’s tough to be a bug was opened a full 7 months before the movie was released. It is thought this is the first time that a ride opened before the movie it’s based on.

15. There are a lot of signs

Imagineering graphics department takes care of signage and other printed matter - more than 3200 pieces in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

16. Rivers of Light

Rivers of Light Rivers of light is the Animal Kingdom nighttime show, some of the spirit animals are over 15ft tall and 30ft long.

17. Soundtrack

Have you ever listened to the background music in AK? Bernie Kraus a bioacoustician help the Imagineers designed a system whereby park background music could be combined with lots of different ways creating a sound scene which could go one for months without repeating. This is important for the animals so they get distressed, angry or bored about the background sounds.

18. Authentic roofs

In Disney’s Africa thatchers traveled all the way from Zululand in South Africa to thatch the roofs in Harambe.

19. Discovery River

Discover River contains over 27 million gallons of water. It was also home to the Discovery River Boats, an attraction which operated for just over one year. Disney closed the attraction citing that the majority of guests did not realize that this was primarily a form of transportation and wasn’t intended to be a ride.

The highlight of the trip was the Dragon which used to breath fire and was a nod to the upcoming Beastly Kingdom.

20. Dedicated to conservation

The advisory board to Animal Kingdom managed to convince the management of The Walt Disney Company of the urgent need of worldwide conservation efforts. They created the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund. This nonprofit organization has awarded grants to over 300 companies in the last 20 years and have helped protect 1000’s of animal species.

You can find out more out about the Wildlife Conservation Fund in a free eBook they published 2 years ago.


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