Despite the beauty and grandeur of the park, as well as Disney’s conservation efforts, Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park made the list of “Worst Places for Elephants,” which leaves us wondering what went wrong at Disney’s fourth theme park, as it relates to these majestic animals.
Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort has been making the headlines for years. A Guest-favorite attraction at the park, Primeval Whirl, suddenly closed in early 2020 and was then completely demolished in late 2021. Every January, the Kali River Rapids attraction closes for maintenance and repairs–a similar premise Guests have heard a few months before their favorite attraction suddenly closes forever– leaving many Guests to wonder if this time will be the time Kali doesn’t reopen.
At the 2022 D23 Expo, Disney’s President of Parks, Products, and Experiences shared minimal details about plans for a revamping of the Dinoland, U. S. A. section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and recently, there’s talk of Animal Kingdom closing its gates forever, as some cite the park’s high operating costs and less-than-desirable attendance levels.
But this isn’t the first season of less-than-optimal news for Disney World’s fourth theme park–not by a long shot.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to hundreds of species of animals, and the Cast Members and veterinary care staff at the park have looked after the animals for a quarter of a century. But that doesn’t mean the day-to-day operations have been without issue–and sometimes those issues were major ones.
In 2014, Animal Kingdom made the list of “Worst Zoos for Elephants,” securing the #10 spot on the list, compiled by a non-profit organization called In Defense of Animals, after an expectant elephant died once she was transferred from Animal Kingdom to the since-closed National Elephant Center, a nonprofit elephant sanctuary in Fellsmere, Florida, nearly 100 miles from the Walt Disney World Resort.
During the preceding year, Disney’s team at Animal Kingdom transfered a total of four elephants to the National Elephant Center. Two of those elephants died as well. In July of that year, the pregnant pachyderm named Moyo and her unborn calf died from complications from birth. A 10-year-old male elephant named Tufani died after he was transferred to the elephant sanctuary as a result of a salmonella infection.
Per the Orlando Sentinel:
A board member for the National Elephant Center, which has Disney ties, said last year the elephants were moved because the older females in the group were trying to move Tufani out of the herd as he was growing up. The sanctuary was seen as a place that could help him adjust. Also, the board member said Disney needed more room to accommodate other animals it wanted to bring in.
In Defense of Animals, the nonprofit group that compiled the list of the worst zoos for elephants said in a statement that “Zoos generally do not transfer pregnant females because of the great stress of travel and potential complications, yet [Disney’s Animal Kingdom] trucked Moyo–who also reportedly had a ‘rare hormonal issue’–to this unproven Florida center. . . This illustrates how zoo transfers are often made with little to no regard for the physical, psychological, and social effects on elephants, or, apparently in this case, the health of a pregnant mother and her baby.”
Disney issued no comment upon the organization’s release of the list.