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Tree-of-Life
Credit: Disney Tips

Do You Know These Facts About Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom?

Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is the newest Theme Park on WDW property – but it’s still nearly 25 years old, having opened on April 22, 1998. If that date sounds familiar to you, it could be because it’s Earth Day, which seems like a perfectly fitting day for Animal Kingdom’s debut!

It may be a relative newcomer to Walt Disney World, but Animal Kingdom Theme Park boasts some impressive stats. For example, it’s not only the largest Disney Theme Park, it’s the biggest theme Park in the world, at 580 acres!  Here are some other surprising Animal Kingdom facts – which ones did you already know?

The Tree of Life

It’s hard to miss the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.  At nearly 150 feet tall, it’s massive, covered in more than 100,000 hand-made leaves, and it’s the beloved icon of the Park.  In fact, we’re told it’s one of the most photographed objects in Walt Disney World, and you can examine it up close by wandering the Discovery Island Trails.

Tree of Life
Credit: DisneyDining

As realistic as the Tree of Life looks, it’s completely artificial – and completely magnificent!  It took a team of three Imagineers and ten artists a year and a half to meticulously create the more-than-300 animals depicted in the Tree.  Though they’re meant to look like carvings, the Tree is actually made from concrete and built over an oil rig so it can withstand even the most devastating hurricane-level winds that Florida can sometimes dish out.

Beastly Kingdom

Have you ever taken the time to read the dedication plaque at Animal Kingdom Park’s entrance?  It welcomes Guests to “the kingdom of animals…real, ancient and imagined, a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons”.  Initially, three different lands were conceptualized by Imagineers for the Park: one with real animals, one for extinct animals, and one for imaginary creatures, to be called the Beastly Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom Park Logo
Credit: Disney

Unfortunately, mostly due to budgetary reasons, the Beastly Kingdom and its dragons, unicorns, and sea serpents never became a reality (although we DO now have Pandora – The World of Avatar, which is along the same lines).  But Guests can still unearth remnants of this lost Animal Kingdom land if they look hard enough!  The Park’s logo features a dragon front and center, a variety of mythical creatures appear above the Park’s ticket windows, the unicorn parking lot section is still in use, and there’s a sea monster head rock formation on your way into Pandora.

When is an Acacia Not an Acacia

You’ve probably seen the iconic flat-topped African acacia trees on the savanna while riding Disney’s Kilimanjaro Safaris. Or – have you?

Kilimanjaro Safaris
Credit: Disney

As it turns out, acacia trees are native to Africa, but not native to Florida, which posed a problem when creating the attraction.  Instead of acacia trees, Imagineers decided to use oak trees – which are native to the area – that receive a very particular haircut to make them resemble acacia trees.

Walt’s Animal Connection

You may already know that Walt Disney adored animals (he was only 4 when he and his family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri, and he started looking after farm animals).  Fast-forward to the 1950s!  When Walt was creating Jungle Cruise for California’s Disneyland, he wanted to populate it live animals, but his Imagineers told him real animals couldn’t be counted on to appear on cue for Guests, so animatronic creatures were used instead.

Kilimanjaro-safaris
Credit: DisneyDining

Years after Walt’s death, his dream for an attraction populated by real animals finally turned into reality with Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris, which uses tricks like concealed food sources near ride vehicles to encourage animals to appear for Guests.  But even better: there’s now an entire Walt Disney World Theme Park that’s bursting with real, live animals.  We think Walt would approve.

Imagineer Globetrotting

It’s good to be an Imagineer.  In preparation for the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, a team of WDW Imagineers led by Joe Rohde traveled around – and around, and around – the globe, racking up hundreds of thousands of miles.  They were researching life in the wild for inspiration for the Park, and bringing back plants and artifacts from every corner of the globe to display there.

expedition-everest
Credit: DiningDining

In fact, in addition to populating the Park with actual artifacts that hail from the regions represented, Imagineers brought back plants from every continent except Antarctica to use in Animal Kingdom.

Pioneering Elephant Work

Did you know that the largest group of African elephants in North America call Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park home?  The scientists that work in the Park have even identified two new vocalizations that hadn’t previously been reported in any elephant populations.  The herd gets to spread out over seven acres of land and a variety of different habitats in Animal Kingdom Park, and you can visit them daily.

Elephant at Animal Kingdom
Credit: DisneyTips

If you have an elephant lover in your party, you can get a closer look at the biggest mammals on Earth by booking a Caring for Giants tour, part of Disney’s Enchanted Extras Collection.  On this hour-long tour, Guests will speak with an elephant guide and learn more about the African elephant herd at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  You’ll also watch these amazing creatures from 80-100 feet away, much closer than you’ll be able to get during any other Park experience.

Bottom Line

As any Disney Guest knows, Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is a wonderful place to travel the world, meet your favorite animals, and just get lost in nature.  And having these little-known facts at your disposal will hopefully make your next visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom even more magical.

About Stacy Milford

Stacy has lived in 4 countries on 3 continents, and travels whenever humanly possible. Passionate about music theatre, dessert, and adventure in the great wide somewhere, she visits Walt Disney World every year, usually during Halloween! Stacy currently divides her time between writing and teaching English as a second language to children in China, and is pretty sure growing up is over-rated.