The Legacy of Disney’s Animal Kingdom 25 Years Later

On Earth Day in 1998, Walt Disney World Resort invited guests to discover a one-of-a-kind theme park where they could be inspired by the magic of the natural world. The opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park 25 years ago introduced a whole new way to appreciate, enjoy and interact with animals while also delivering incredible new stories that celebrated our relationship to the environment. The fourth Walt Disney World theme park was also Disney’s largest, spreading out over 500 acres.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom combined Walt Disney’s love of animals—both real and imaginary—with exciting attractions, spectacular stage shows, and entertaining characters. From the Tree of Life—which features 337 sculpted animals in its trunk—to the floating mountains, bioluminescence, and top-rated attractions in Pandora – The World of Avatar, we continue to creatively celebrate and inspire guests in ways only Disney’s Animal Kingdom can.

Glowing plants and floating mountains inside Pandora - World of Avatar in Disney's Animal Kingdom at Disney World

True, there were—and are—breathtaking animal encounters, from an African safari adventure to a meandering, mystical trail that leads guests on an exciting search for tigers, to thrilling theatrical productions – and so much more. But this park is also the way for Disney to inspire people with the spectacular breadth and beauty of nature and animals through the power of world-class entertainment and storytelling.

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests encounter wild adventures like taking flight on the back of a banshee with Avatar Flight of Passage, rocketing on a high-speed train adventure through Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, and diving into stellar musical stage shows including “Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond!” and the larger-than-life “Festival of the Lion King.”

Over the last 25 years, the park has continually evolved and expanded with new attractions, entertainment, and even entirely new lands such as Asia and Pandora – The World of Avatar. We’ve made it a priority to continue investing in new and exciting opportunities for our guests, giving them more reasons to not only return to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Central Florida region, but also reaffirm the state of Florida as an unforgettable tourist destination.

We also cherish that our guests come back to admire, interact with and be inspired by our thousands of beloved animals. In fact, about 45 of them have been here since before opening day! Many of the most remarkable accomplishments from Disney’s Animal Kingdom happen behind the scenes, where our Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment team cares for nearly 2,000 animals representing over 200 different species.

Throughout the 25 years of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney has made significant contributions to the preservation and wellbeing of animals not only at the theme park, but also around the community, state and globe. Through funding from The Walt Disney Company and supplemented by the generous contributions of guests, the Disney Conservation Fund has invested more than $125 million in conservation efforts that have supported more than 1,000 species and protected 315 million acres globally since 1995. And here in Florida, Disney recently announced a $500,000 donation to five conservation organizations to help make a happier, healthier planet possible for all: Conservation Florida, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Lake Nature Center and Wekiva Wilderness Trust.

With each organization receiving $100,000, these grants made a number of projects possible – from expanding land protection initiatives, to ensuring healthy tree canopy coverage in underserved communities, finding solutions to clean drinking water for those in need, and funding educational opportunities for youth around the state.

Our team of passionate veterinarians, nutritionists, animal keepers, educators and scientists not only delivers the absolute highest care to the animals that call Disney’s Animal Kingdom home, but they take that knowledge out into the world, spanning the globe with a mission to enhance the world’s understanding of protecting, conserving and enhancing natural resources and wildlife for future generations.

Disney veterinarian at Disney's Animal Kingdom caring for White Rhino

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has an incredible impact in places like Africa, South America and Asia, helping communities protect habitats and species in some of the most remote corners of the world from the tiniest cotton-top tamarins to the mightiest of elephants. And locally, we’ve worked with partners around the state to help protect nesting habitats for sea turtles, rescue and release dozens of manatees and restore and repopulate corals to help restore Florida’s Coral Reef. 

As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Disney’s Animal Kingdom has also collaborated with other AZA members to help increase populations of endangered and extinct species, such as the Guam rail and Guam kingfisher birds. Following AZA Species Survival Plans, the park has welcomed a variety of animals from endangered species into the world, including Sumatran tigers, western lowland gorillas, African elephants, cotton-top tamarins and okapi to name just a few. In fact, Disney’s Animal Nutrition Center has served as a model test kitchen for a number of other AZA-accredited facilities who have adopted many of the nutritional diets developed specifically for the animals here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Today we celebrate not only 25 wild years of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but the legacy the park leaves on the world around us. That legacy is more than a theme park with incredible animals; it’s more than remarkable shows and experiences that leave us with a sense of wonder. Disney’s Animal Kingdom forever impacted everything we understood about the environment, animals and the world around us, and that legacy of celebrating and supporting the natural world will live on to impact generations and generations to follow.