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disney's animal kingdom
Credit: Brett Svenson/Disney PhotoSnapper

Disney World Settles 16 Charges of Animal Cruelty to Avoid Court Case

Disney World answered 16 charges of animal cruelty by settling so that the company wouldn’t have to face the hassles of going to court.

RELATED: “Poor Financial State” of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s the Reason for the Park’s Planned Closure: Report

disney's animal kingdom

Credit: Brett Svenson/Disney PhotoSnapper

The Walt Disney World Resort’s fourth theme park is a breathtakingly beautiful one. Spanning 500 acres, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to thousands of animals and serves as the hub for Disney’s conservation effort.

As of 2018–the 20th anniversary of the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Disney World–the theme park was also home to more than 25,000 trees planted with the support of Disney’s Conservation Fund, in an effort to help restore tropical forests in Colombia for a species of tamarin, known as the “cotton-top.”

Cotton-Top Tamarin

Cotton-top Tamarin/Credit: Animalia.bio

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is divided into six different areas: Africa, Asia, Dinoland, U. S. A., Pandora: The World of Avatar, The Oasis, and Discovery Island. Africa and Asia feature animal species native to those continents, and Dinoland, U. S. A. was inspired by the roadside attractions of days gone by (with a stroke of dinosaur creativity). Pandora: The World of Avatar was inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar and is home to one of the most popular attractions in the park–Avatar: Flight of Passage.

disney's animal kingdom pandora

Credit: Becky Burkett

And perhaps the most serene areas of the park, The Oasis and Discovery Island, feature lush vegetation, meandering shaded trails, waterfalls, and animals like giant anteaters, babirusas, barking deer, wallabies, and spoonbills.

disney's animal kingdom discovery island

Credit: Becky Burkett

It’s interesting, however, that Disney would recycle the name “Discovery Island,” as the same name was given to an interactive animal experience at Disney World that faced legal troubles, was closed in 1999, and remains in a state of abandoned ruin to this day.

In its prime, Discovery Island, located in the middle of Bay Lake at the Walt Disney World, was a bit of a tropical paradise.

discovery island disney world

But as time went on, things changed. And the tiny little spot of paradise in Bay Lake became a paradise lost.

At one point in Discovery Island’s downturn, Disney was charged with 16 counts of animal cruelty. The situation was far-reaching, and ultimately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Florida Attorney’s Office, and the U. S. Attorney’s Office were involved.

According to state and federal charges filed against Disney in September 1989, Cast Members at Discovery Island killed vultures, kept dozens of other vultures in a tiny shed without adequate food and water, used guns to shoot at falcons and hawks, and intentionally destroyed eggs in the nests of ibises and egrets.

disney world discovery island

Credit: Walt Dated World

Ultimately, Disney World agreed to pay almost $100,000 in fines to settle the charges against Disney and five of its Cast Members, $75,000 of which went to the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission, which used the money to begin airing public service announcements about wildlife preservation, and $10,000 of which went toward operating a Florida Audobon Society center in Maitland, Florida. Another $10,000 went directly to the federal government.

Per the Orlando Sentinel:

Disney spokesman Charlie Ridgway said the company was willing to pay the money and settle the case “to avoid a costly, protracted court proceeding,” and because “we’ve always wanted to maintain the highest possible reputation at Discovery Island. We are proud of what we have accomplished in 15 years and want to continue that effort.”

Ridgway denied that the company was willing to pay more because it wanted to offset negative national publicity from the animal cruelty case. But game and fish commission attorney Jim Knight said Disney officials told him differently.

“[Disney] wanted to get this over with,” said Jim Knight. “With the bad publicity they’ve gotten, the public black eye, they’ve told me that the last thing they ever want is for this to happen again. I think they’re going to be very careful about their operations in the future.”

disney world discovery island

Credit: TravelAwaits

Fifteen additional charges were dropped against Disney and the five Cast Members in an agreement with federal and state prosecutors, so long as Disney committed no additional violations against animals for one year.

Disney’s Ridgway refused to admit any wrongdoing on the part of the company or its Cast Members.

“We don’t know,” Ridgway said. “Who can say exactly who did what or what their intentions were? All we have is what people told investigators about what happened.”

Disney’s Discovery Island finally closed in 1999 and has since become nothing more than an abandoned location on Disney’s property that sees no Guests, other than those so-called “urban explorers,” who trespass illegally to record footage for YouTube videos.

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!