Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebrates 25 Years on Earth Day

Photo of veterinarian Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko doing a wellness check on lioness Kinsey at Animal Kingdom at Disney.

Animal Kingdom, a beloved theme park of Walt Disney World, celebrates its 25th anniversary today on Earth Day. As we take a moment to reflect on the significance of this day, we can also take a moment to appreciate the tireless efforts of Disney’s Animals, Science, and Environment team.

Disney’s Animals, Science, and Environment team consist of 57 female and 14 male Cast Members, including veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and hospital keepers. With a commitment to conservation, the team has been leading the way in reversing the decline of endangered and imperiled species. Dr. Jennifer Flower, Clinical Veterinarian, has worked at Disney for almost two years. Dr. Deidre Fontenot, Veterinary Operations Manager, Animal Health, has worked at Disney for 22 years. Their passion for helping endangered animals has been instrumental in caring for the diverse animal population at the park, which includes more than 300 species, each with unique needs.

 New, never before seen photos of veterinarian Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko doing a wellness check on lioness Kinsey at Animal Kingdom. Disney Animal Kingdom is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“I’ve developed a great sense of humility to know that I will never know everything about every animal we work on,” Dr. Deidre says. “But we have an amazing team that has the expertise on a lot of different species. We rely on our teamwork to collaborate and do what we feel is best for every animal, knowing that we have great resources in our industry.”

Collaboration often involves thinking outside the box when traditional treatment plans do not work. Dr. Jen advocates for animals on both land and sea, applying innovative techniques to provide the best possible care for the animals at Animal Kingdom. She shares the story of treating an anemic green moray eel at The Seas with Nemo and Friends at EPCOT.

“The innovation, in this case, was the creation of what we fondly call our eel hammock, where essentially, they are suspended in a plexiglass box with water in it so that the eel could be in a straight line, in water, and go through the CT scans safely,” she says. “It’s not something that you would think about daily, but things like that happen all the time.”

Disney’s Animals, Science, and Environment team also engages communities worldwide to preserve our planet. Through their accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and Species Survival Plans (SSPs), they have worked towards a world where wildlife thrives and is protected. Dr. Deidre works with the AZA on the island of Guam to help recover the Guam rails and Guam kingfishers bird species, two of the most endangered species in the world.

“Our team has been traveling there for 20 years to help support a breeding program that they have on the island by doing healthcare every one to two years and also doing capacity building of the local people,” Dr. Deidre says. “We travel to high schools to talk about conservation and veterinary medicine opportunities and empower students to help take care of the birds that hopefully will be reintroduced into their forests someday.”

She highlights how storytelling in conservation and animal care is a deep part of the legacy at Animal Kingdom, using the example of how the veterinary treatment room at the park is open to guests through glass, allowing them to witness the team’s work.

Dr. Jen agrees and adds that educating children about conservation and environmentalism can inspire future conservationists, scientists, and veterinarians. She also recommends starting small with personal actions like reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Dr. Jen and Dr. Deidre’s work at Disney Animal Kingdom is of utmost importance to the animals in their care but also to the larger goal of conservation. Their innovative techniques and dedication to providing the best care possible are a testament to the importance of their work. As we celebrate Earth Day and the 25th anniversary of Animal Kingdom, we can appreciate the impact of their efforts towards creating a world where animals thrive and are protected for generations to come.

“I think that one of the things that all of us love at Disney is leading by example and showing future generations, ‘Hey, you guys can do this too,’” Dr. Jen says. “You can make a difference in the lives of these animals, and you can work at an amazing place like Disney. If you work hard and put your mind to it, magical things can happen.”


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Written by Alexis George

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