Disney’s Animal Kingdom is failing in its conservation efforts, according to post

dr. ryan and popcorn disney's animal kingdom
Credit: Disney Parks

“Welcome to a kingdom of animals. . . real, ancient, and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs, and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony, and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama and learn.”

According to The South Florida Sun Sentinel, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened at the Walt Disney World Resort April 22, 1998 with 1,000 animals spread out over 500 acres and welcomed more than 35,000 Disney World fans who doubled as animal lovers through its gates that day. Disney had consulted with well-known animals experts like Jane Goodall and others who could guide their steps as they pertained to animal care and keeping. It was a project that set Disney back a cool $800 million in the late 1990s, which, when adjusted for inflation, would be closer to $1.4 billion today. But while the photos, videos, and newscasts that day showcased the happy smiles of thousands and candid shots of animals in their Disney-fied “natural-as-they-can-get-them” habitats, something more was going on just behind all the ticker tape and hoopla.

This Day In Disney History: Disney's Animal Kingdom Opened in 1998 | Disney  Parks Blog

Opening Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom/Credit: Disney Parks

Even before the park opened, animal rights groups had already found fault with Disney. The Sun Sentinel post highlights the deaths of several animals in the six months leading up to the opening of Animal Kingdom. Cheetah cubs, rhinos, and hippos were among those that had died, and because of those deaths, Animal Kingdom’s opening took place while the park was under investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture. Animal rights activists had already promised protests and picketing and were no doubt charged by this information, as well as by Disney’s opening of a theme park dedicated to a host of live but captive animals that activists worried would be treated unfairly or inhumanely.

Shortly thereafter, Disney was absolved of any wrongdoing in the deaths of the animals.

And as with any new project Disney Parks undertakes, there are usually several schools of thought: those who vehemently oppose the project, those who champion the project, those who don’t know how they feel, but they know the project is “ruining the magic,” and the ones who know they could have completed the project in a much better way. Just ask Bob Chapek.

While activitists groups aren’t in the spotlight at the moment, Disney fans of varying ages have taken issue with the parks’ leadership over many things, especially lately. Complaints have been lodged whether vocally or online about everything from the price of annual passes to the addition and deletion of attractions.

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In a post last week in The Orlando Sentinel, the authors point out that Disney’s commitment to the conservation of our animal friends can be read at different places throughout Animal Kingdom, and that in a recently-aired docuseries about the park, a veterinary team at Disney’s Animal Kingdom performed a life-saving procedure for a chicken named Popcorn. The post quoted a member of the team who said “it really doesn’t matter if [the animals] were born [at Animal Kingdom] or if [they’re] a rescue; every animal gets the same love and care here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.”

Dr. Ryan and Popcorn

Dr. Ryan and Popcorn the Chicken/Credit: Disney Parks

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But in the opinions of the authors of the post, Daniel O’Brien and Sarah Fisher, both vegans, that quote doesn’t seem to ring true when you consider that not too far from Popcorn’s surgery suite, chicken is served to hungry Guests who stop for a bite before heading on to the next animal-themed experience or an attraction in the park’s Asia and Africa sections. And while Disney World has expanded its offerings of vegan options on menus across the parks, for this duo, it’s not enough–at least at Animal Kingdom.

“It is time for Animal Kingdom to embody its motto of “celebrating all living things” by removing the animal kingdom from its menus,” per O’Brien and Fisher.

The two point out that if Disney offered solely vegan menus across Animal Kingdom, the park would be doing its part to prevent the deaths of animals raised only to be part of the menu while reducing its environmental footprint, as the absence of foods derived from animals reduces the need for water by as much as 99% in some cases and reduces greenhouse gases by as much as 93%, per their research.

According to veestro.com, By going vegan for a month, you would not only save 30 animal lives, but also 620 pounds of harmful carbon dioxide emissions, 913 square feet of forest, and 33,481 gallons of water.

“[Disney’s] Animal Kingdom should allow guests to take part in conservation right at their Disney dining tables,” O’Brien and Fisher write. “Disney has a chance to make real change, to follow in the footsteps of prominent restaurants around the country in meeting its moral obligation to become meat-free.”

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Therein quite possibly lies the dilemma. Many Guests who visit the Walt Disney World Resort don’t make an automatic association between the consumption of animal-derived foods and morality–some because they don’t know what goes into making food from animals and some because they simply don’t see a eating meat as a villainous act.

Regardless of Guests’ personal decisions on whether to take a vow against consuming foods derived from animals or maintaining a diet that includes meat, dairy, eggs, etc., it’s worth noting that Disney’s Animal Kingdom already has many vegan options available to Guests.

Chickpea panissee with tomato jam and roasted carrots

Credit: Disney Parks

Plant-based offerings across the Disney World Resort are denoted with a green leaf next to the menu item description. If a Guest sees that leaf, he or she knows 100% of the offering is plant-based. The Resort has even created a Guide to Plant-Based Dining, and you can click here to see the guide.

Chili Spiced Crispy Fried Tofu Bowl featuring crispy tofu, seasoned with chili spice and topped with a crunchy vegetable slaw, boba balls and sauce.

Credit: Disney Parks

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At Animal Kingdom, offerings range from the Hot Link Smokehouse Sandwich at Flame Tree Barbecue to the choice of Chili-Spiced Crispy Fried Tofu in a bowl at Satul’i Canteen in Pandora. Tiffin’s Restaurant also has vegan offerings.

But O’Brien and Fisher feel that Disney can do far more than this when it comes to its animal conservation efforts by refusing to include any members of the animal kingdom on the menus at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, which in turn allows Guests to participate in that conservation as well. At the end of the day, according to the authors, everyone wins–the animals, Disney’s Guests, and the planet as a whole.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!