As far back as we can remember, Disney has created opportunities for us to “fawn” over animals such as Bambi, Abu, and Simba. 20 years ago, Disney created the opportunity for us to come and adore the same types of animals in person, right at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This would not be able to happen without Disney’s Animal Care Experts on call tending to all of the animals and their needs.
With animals on site, and their babies popping up over time, it is essential that there are experts on staff who are able to care for the animals. The past few months alone, Animal Kingdom has seen the birth of Sumatran Tiger cubs (Anala and Jeda) and a baby Nile hippo (Augustus).
Zoological Manager Kristen Wolfe explained that it can take up to 3 years planning for a baby to enter the park. It involves making sure there is enough room in the park and matching potential mother and fathers based on temperament, genetics, and recommendations from Species Survival Plan coordinators. This is exactly the type of planning that went into Sohni’s (the mother of Anala and Jeda) pregnancy.
Jill Piltz, another Zoological Manager, and her team were responsible for monitoring Sohni’s pregnancy and delivery, which they were able to observe through a camera system. The team then had the privilege of naming the cubs: Anala, which means “feisty” or “fiery” due to her big personality and Jeda, which means “pause” since he has markings resembling the pause symbol. The cubs are now eight months old with Anala weighing in at 88.5 pounds and Jeda topping his sister at 92 pounds.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to one of the largest bloats (a group of hippos) in North America. It had been 13 years since the last baby hippo, so Wolfe and her team worked with the Species Survival Plan to determine the best candidate to become the next mother. Due to her ability to tell other hippos what to do, Tuma was determined to be the best candidate for delivering a baby hippo and acclimating it to the bloat.
As Tuma’s delivery grew near, the team kept a close eye on her and continued to do so for Augustus’ first eight weeks of life. As Augustus learned “how to behave” within the group, his mother’s overprotectiveness began to fade. “Just like a kid, if he does something that gets him in trouble, he learns not to do that again,” explained Wolfe. “What people don’t realize is that hippo behaviors are a lot like human behaviors- there’s that growing and learning period for them that we need to let happen.”
The key approach Disney’s Animal Care Experts take is letting the animals learn for themselves.“The animals teach their babies all the natural behaviors they should, and then someday, when those babies become parents on their own, they already know all those behaviors because they learned them from mom growing up,” Piltz says.
Disney’s Animal Care Experts make sure the animals feel like cast members are keeping their distance, but the cast members are grateful for the brief interactions they do have as it reminds them of how fortunate they are to witness the lives and world of these wild animals. “Last night I took two seconds to sit down at the computer and write a work order, and I look over—and the office door is open—to see a rhino off in the distance, eating dinner. And there are people on this earth that will never see a live rhino ever,” Wolfe shared.
Piltz agrees that simple moments can have the most profound impact. “With the Sumatran tiger cubs, you see new behavior. Seeing them wrestle with a coconut and play with it…Those are the moments that you’ve got to just stop, watch, and take a moment and enjoy it. You’re working with endangered species that are very rare on this planet and they’re awesome animals.”
Images copyright Disney.
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