One of the most awe-inspiring attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom isn’t a new thrill ride, restaurant or the experience of seeing your favorite animal up close. It usually isn’t advertised that the park is home to many endangered species brought here to receive another chance to thrive, including several species of primates, a group that includes monkeys and apes.
Several primates cared for at the park appear at different levels of severity on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, which ranks animal population trends and any threats a population faces, such as deforestation or the pet trade.
The Angolan colobus monkey is listed as “least concern;” the ring-tailed lemur is “threatened;” the mandrill and collared lemur are “vulnerable;” and the siamang and white-cheeked gibbon are categorized as “endangered.”
Animals most at risk at the park are the cotton-top tamarin and the Western lowland gorilla, which are ranked “critically endangered.” “There’s absolutely no substitute for seeing animals face-to-face,” said Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., vice president of Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives. “We feel it, and research confirms it.
When we see animals face-to-face, we make a special connection that inspires us to protect and conserve them. We understand better what a tremendous loss it would be, for ourselves and for future generations, if these animals were to become extinct.”
One way Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Animal Programs strives to help these animals, aside from giving them safe habitats, healthy diets and on-site medical care, is by participating in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which maintains a database of information on the species including their genetic value.
“The goal of the program is to cooperatively manage the entire population of a particular species in all the member institutions as one population,” said John Lehnhardt, Animal Operations director. “[They] review the population each year and work with population geneticists to determine the best breeding pairs within the population to preserve the greatest genetic variability of the population overall.
The long range goal of an SSP is to maintain at least 90 percent of the genetic diversity of a population for 100 years.” Guests and Cast Members can take action and help these animals by donating to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, several resorts (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Disney’s Old Key West Resort, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort) or aboard Disney Cruise Line ships.
Guests receive a button proclaiming them a conservation hero, and 100 percent of Guest donations go directly to projects funded around the world, many of which help these endangered animals. For example, in 2007 DWCF funded Pandrillus Foundation USA’s Preparing for Release program, which conducted medical screenings of mandrills in Nigeria.
Also that year, a baby Western lowland gorilla in Cameroon benefited from a DWCF Rapid Response Fund donation to the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance’s (PASA) “Gorilla Relief Program.” The donation paid for the care and feeding of the baby gorilla, which was orphaned by illegal hunting.
In 2008, DWCF gave funds to Proyecto Titi, Inc., a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the cotton-top tamarin in Colombia. The donation benefited the nonprofit’s “Community Action Fund: The Development of Los Limites Conservation Center” project, which established the first conservation center in the area to protect cotton-top tamarins and the forests in the region.
Guests also can help this project by purchasing eco-mochilas, bags made out of recycled materials by artisans in Colombia, at Out of the Wild at Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort.
“Purchasing an eco-mochila helps provide a stable income for local communities in Colombia,” said Anne Savage, Ph.D., senior conservation biologist. “By creating jobs, these communities no longer need to go to the forest and capture animals or cut down trees to sell to get money to feed their families.
They can help protect the forests and the cotton-top tamarins because they know that eco-mochilas not only provide a stable source of income but also help to clean up the environment, making it a better place for both people and animals.”