As much as I love seeing the animals while visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom the unfortunate reality is that many of these species can only be seen in parks like this one because their homes (and the animals themselves) are all too often needlessly destroyed by humans in the wild. This is of course a total downer, but there are ways we can help by supporting the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.
The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) provides grants to organizations all over the world that are working to protect animals from habitat loss, poaching, natural disasters, and more. It’s really easy to support the DWCF, all you need to do is make a donation (in any amount) when you make a purchase at a merchandise or quick service location in Disney’s Animal Kingdom (or select additional locations around Walt Disney World).
It’s as simple as rounding up the change on your purchase, and Disney matches every donation made to the fund. Disney also covers all overheard costs, so you can rest assured knowing that the money you donate will go directly towards an organization that needs it and not towards administrative costs.
Here are just a few of the animals whose species benefit from your contributions to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund:
The tigers featured in the Maharajah Jungle Trek in the park are Sumatran tigers, which are the rarest tigers currently found in the wild. While all species of tiger technically fall under the “endangered” category, Sumatran tigers are “critically endangered” with only about 400 estimated to be living in the wild. The Sumatran tigers’ numbers are dwindling in the wild as a result of habitat loss and poaching.
With their natural habitats shrinking, the tigers are finding themselves closer and closer to locals’ livestock, which they naturally prey on. This causes locals to prey on the tigers, making poaching an issue. On top of all of this, poachers are also after the animals that the tigers prey on in the wild, so many tigers find themselves without a sustainable food source.
Disney has been educating millions of locals in Indonesia on the importance of tigers to their natural habitats with Donal Bebek (Donald Duck) comics. Disney recently introduced a character to the comic series named Treasure the Sumatran tiger, who will help to educate millions of Indonesians on how important it is to help protect tigers in the wild.
While it may seem small, an important step in many conservation initiatives is education. There are certainly humans who are out to destroy wild habitats with no regard for animal life, but there are just as many if not more cases of humans who are simply unaware that their actions are harmful for nearby animals.
This is why education is a major step in changing the landscapes of endangered species around the world, and it’s also why facilities like zoos are valuable resources– because they teach us about the real-life situations of endangered animals and all of the ways we can help.
In addition to the DWCF, you can help support Sumatran tigers by purchasing products that are sustainable and “wildlife friendly.” Sumatran tigers’ habitats are often destroyed so that the forests can be used to make wood products. Especially when purchasing items that contain palm oil, look for sustainable wood or bamboo to avoid giving in to the deforestation of tiger habitats for commercial purposes.
You can see African elephants in Disney’s Animal Kingdom from Kilimanjaro Safaris. In the wild, these elephants live in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where they enjoy a variety of habitats ranging from arid deserts to wet marshes and everything in between.
This species is considered “vulnerable” and they are threatened by the increasing demand for ivory which results in poaching. Poachers illegally slaughter elephants for their tusks (despite the fact that an international ban on ivory was put in place in 1989). The ivory from the tusks is highly sought after in the global black market for its ability to produce high end products like jewelry– a practice that kills an estimated 96 elephants per day.
Like tigers, elephants are also threatened due to the shrinking of their natural habitats. As you would imagine, elephants need to consume large amounts of food to survive, which means their habitats take up a lot of space– a concept that is difficult when resources of this scope in the wild are diminishing.
As a result, wild elephants often find themselves consuming crops planted by humans as a means of income. With an understanding that the elephants can destroy their family’s income, many elephants are killed by humans when they feel they have become a threat to their crops.
The DWCF supports elephants in the wild through a variety of conservation initiatives enacted by organizations throughout Africa. One such organization, Save the Elephants, operates in Kenya with a goal of finding a solution to the human-elephant conflicts that arise when elephants find themselves consuming human crops.
Save the Elephants used research conducted by scientists from Disney’s Animal Kingdom to determine that elephants are actually afraid of honey bees. With this information, bee-hive fences can be built to protect local income derived from farming in a way that is both low-cost, eco-friendly, and beneficial to both humans and elephants. The beehive fences even help farming communities gain another source of income by stocking local honey.
Regulating poaching proves to be more difficult, however Disney has made progress in this area as well. Elephant alarm collars were first used in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and they are now being used throughout Africa to alert anti-poaching initiatives of elephant whereabouts. The collars send alerts when an elephant is in distress, which scientists hope will help ward off poachers as new data comes in regarding where and when poaching takes place in the wild.
When you’re not contributing to the DWCF at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can still do your part at home to help Save the Elephants. Most obviously, we can refuse to purchase ivory products– if the demand for ivory decreases and the product becomes less valuable poachers will have little incentive to kill elephants for their tusks.
When purchasing paper products, be sure to look for options that are sustainable and eco-friendly. To help elephants specifically, you can purchase wildlife-friendly elephant paper, which is made from elephant dung rather than the forests that make up their natural habitats.
Cotton-Top Tamarins are some of my personal favorite animals to visit when I’m at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! You can find these monkeys at both Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Discovery Island but in the wild they are found in the tropical climates of northwestern Colombia. They can leap about 15 feet per jump from tree to tree (which you can observe in their habitat in the park), and in the wild they often spend their time foraging for fruits and insects in trees about 30 feet high.
Unfortunately these tamarins are one of the most endangered species of primates in the world, with only about 7,500 left in the wild. Deforestation has had devastating impacts on their natural habitats as their forests in Colombia are cleared for timber for construction projects and agricultural expansions.
While illegal, cotton-tops specifically have become increasingly popular to have as pets, and as a result they are known to be captured and sold in communities surrounding their natural habitats. Disney’s Conservation Director, Dr. Anne Savage, is a world-renowned leading expert on Cotton-Top Tamarins and as a result of her knowledge Disney has been exponential in supporting the continuation of this species in the wild.
One way the DWCF is helping tamarins is by heading straight for the root of the issue and finding alternative income solutions for communities who feel they need to deforest tamarin habitats to survive financially. The DWCF supports Proyecto Tití, a conservation group which seeks to reduce the uses of products made from forest materials in tamarin habitats and find new ways for local communities to develop and sustain their incomes.
Proyecto Tití created a plan to encourage locals to use less firewood by re-designing traditional binde cook stoves into a new clay version that is 67% more efficient (it only uses five logs, whereas previous versions needed to use 15!) The new stoves help save the trees tamarins live in and they even help humans by producing less smoke which has caused eye and lung irritation in older versions of the stove.
Proyecto Tití doesn’t stop there however. To combat the appeal of owning tamarins as pets, the group organized educational opportunities to create a greater awareness and appreciation for the species.
They partnered with a local women’s group to devise small business alternatives that would provide a legal and sustainable alternative to the pet trade. This group created plush cotton top tamarin toys to sell in place of the actual tamarins as pets. Since their debut, the toys have become prized possessions which are offered to members of these communities in exchange for the sling shots used to hunt tamarins.
Lastly, another small business operates using these women’s groups to craft traditional mochila bags out of recycled plastic bags and other “trash” materials. These businesses have used over 3 million plastic bags, which helps to save the tamarins natural habitat and create an additional stream of income for their communities.
Along with the DWCF, you can support cotton top tamarins by purchasing one of Proyecto Tití’s plush tamarins, (which you can order online here!) We can also continue to purchase recycled/forest-friendly products, especially when it comes to items like paper and pencils to reduce deforestation in tamarin habitats.
If you are able to, purchasing handmade eco-mochila bags can also help reduce deforestation (and help Colombian families reduce their dependence on deforestation as a source of income), and you can teach others about the importance of protecting the tamarin!
It’s easy to spread the word about animals who need our help, just write up a blog post like this one, choose an endangered animal for a school project, or bring your family and friends to an AZA accredited zoo or aquarium.
Learn more about the DWCF
The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund works far above and beyond the three species in this post. With new grants provided to non-profit organizations all over the world, and Disney’s scientists working to find ways to save natural habitats, your donations in the park really can make a difference.
Since the DWCF’s founding in 1995, over $65 million has been used to support animal conservation initiatives by more than 315 non-profits in 112 countries. In addition to conservation programs, the DWCF creates an annual emergency fund to assist communities and animals who experience a crisis such as an oil spill or natural disasters.
The fund has also worked with Disneynature to plant nearly 3 million trees, create protections for 40,000 acres of coral reef, and for 65,000 acres of savanna with the African Wildlife Foundation. And lastly, the DWCF continues to work with the Jane Goodall Institute to create protected areas for chimpanzees and educational programming.
You can learn more about the DWCF, including which organizations have benefited from grants from the organization, on the fund’s website or by checking out this eBook commemorating the DWCF’s 20th anniversary.
If you’d like to learn more about the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, let me know in the comments– we’d love to talk more about Disney’s animals and conservation efforts in future posts!