During our research for our latest episode on The Lion King, both Ashley and I became interested in delving further into the work that Disney puts forward to help conservation efforts throughout their properties and the world. As you may recall, with the release of The Lion King film in 1994, Simba, Timon and Pumba all took part in a widespread PSA campaign encouraging children to recycle, and help keep the environment healthy. However, that was over twenty years ago now (and yes that does make us feel old), what is Disney doing now?
Perhaps the most obvious example of Disney’s efforts to protect animals and their habitats is the Disney World Park, Animal Kingdom. The newest park at the Disney World Resort in Orlando Florida, opened in 1998 is easy to dismiss as simply an amusement park, but there is a lot more to it. In fact, the largest attraction is Kilimanjaro Safari’s which encompasses 110 acres (larger than the entire Magic Kingdom Park!), in which animals are largely allowed to free roam and intermingle.
The park also houses over 1,000 animals and over 4,000 trees, plants and grasses from every continent on earth, except Antarctica. In fact Disney has done extensive work with one of the most endangered animals in the world. The White Rhino. Since it’s opening, 8 white rhinos have been born in the park, a staggering feat, considered there are only 11,000 left in the entire world. The park also took part in an effort to reintroduce at least one of it’s young rhinos back into it’s natural habitat of Uganda. In 2006 the young rhino was released and three years later she even had a calf of her own. One of the first White Rhinos to be born outside of captivity in several years.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park also spearheads an effort to educate children and adults alike about animals and their endangered habitats. At Rafiki’s Planet Watch, located at Conservation Station, visitors can view feedings and veterinary care of the park’s many animals. Animal experts are also present to answer questions and give guest more information on the challenges facing the park’s inhabitants. There’s also a computer system that can tell guests where the conservation organization nearest their home town is located; encouraging visitors to continue on their journey to help protect the wild.
Outside of The Animal Kingdom, many conservationists are also studying the effect that films, like The Lion King, that anthropomorphize animals has on conservation efforts. Their findings? It actually helps. Take the meerkat for example, before The Lion King the meerkat was probably not far up on children’s lists of favorite animals. But once Timon made his debut, as the funny and enigmatic sidekick, every kid wanted to get a glimpse of them at the zoo.
John Frazer from the New Knowledge educational think tank in New York said, “Anthropomorphism is a path to knowledge, empathy is essential to promoting concern for animals and species, and if projecting our human perceptual world on those beings helps people on that learning path, it’s important.” In addition, in a 2013 study by the Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation, it was found that anthropomorphism does help people make sense of their interactions with the non-human world. And, when there is a sense of connection, there is often a stronger commitment to conservation. In essence, an audience’s love of The Lion King, can easily lead to the public donating more to charities that support and protect lions and other specifies featured in the film.