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Magic of Disney's Animal Kingdom Interview

Meet wonderful animals and their caregivers!

Sep 22, 2020

“Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom” is an 8-part series on National Geographic via Disney+ starting September 25th.  The series will visit different locales inside the EPCOT and Disney's Animal Kingdom parks featuring various gorgeous animals and their caregivers each week. The series is delightfully narrated by fan favorite Josh Gad who voiced snowman Olaf in the “Frozen” films. 

"Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom" Trailer



To launch the new series, animal specialists, caregivers, animal scientists and Imagineers gathered to tell us all about the show that will feature several of the 300 animal species living at the parks in state-of-the-art habitats. You will go behind the scenes and see the close bonds the parks’ animal care experts have formed with amazing creatures.

Kamari the lionessKamari the lionessCourtesy of Disney

Answering questions and telling us about the new series are Joe Rohde, Disney Imagineer and creative executive, Dr. Mark Penning, V.P. animal, science and environment at the Disney Parks, Dr. Dan Fredholm, veterinarian and Rachel Daneault, animal manager. 

Josh Gad narrates the seriesJosh Gad narrates the seriesCourtesy of Disney

Q: Where in the Parks were the episodes filmed?

  • Mark: The filming took place here at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park and at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, and also at the Seas with Nemo and Friends at EPCOT. So we've got a very broad selection of animal species and individuals that have stories to tell.

Keeper checking up on elephantKeeper checking up on elephantCourtesy of Disney

Q: Will we see relationships between the animals and their caregivers?

  • Joe: The core of the show is to demonstrate the part that you don't see. There is real emotional care here. The show is actually a show about emotions, about the emotional investment of the people in the lives of these animals.

Vet, Dr. Ryan De Voe with Popcorn a Frizzle chickenVet with Popcorn a Frizzle chickenCourtesy of Disney

Q: For Dr. Mark Penning and Joe- What makes Animal Kingdom different from any other animal sanctuary or zoo around the world?

  • Joe: I think first, there is a level of theatrical storytelling. We frame all of the animal experiences within a thematic and narrative experience, so it isn't just presenting animals for your consideration. It is the experience of being in a place suffused with story in which, when you do finally see these animals, the moment is filled with additional meaning.

Joe Rohde - creative Portfolio Executive Walt Disney ImagineeringJoe RohdeCourtesy of Disney
  • Mark: What Disney's Animal Kingdom shows me is the incredible relationships between people and the animals. The passion that the people have for telling the stories about those animals, for how we work with the Disney Conservation Fund to protect those animals in the wild and the habitats that they come from. We immerse you completely into that experience, that makes it completely unique for me.

Q: Dan and Rachel - I'm sure you love all of the animals, but are there any you've developed a particularly special relationship with and which surprised you the most?

  • Rachel: For me, it's gorillas. There is an episode where you see me with one gorilla in particular. He's our silverback for our family group. I work with gorillas here, but I also get to talk to our guests about gorillas who are at an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo that Disney actually helped build and supports now.  I think the gorillas in particular have really been life-changing for me.

Keepers Ashley Majyyka, Rober Ng, and Juoy Luzania enjoy working with macaw groupKeepers enjoy working with macaw groupCourtesy of Disney
  • Dan: I really have a soft spot in my heart for Casanova, the hornbill that lives over at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. He's extremely charismatic, he is a character and every time I'm over there, I just find myself staring at him, watching how he behaves and runs around the savannahs. But, we have so many amazing animals.

Gryffin the blue and gold macawGryffin the blue and gold macawCourtesy of Disney
  • (At this point Dan shows us Tito, an opossum)  One of which, right here, this is Tito. He is one of our opossums living over at Conservation Station in the Affection Section (like a petting zoo). The thing that surprises me is how great these animals can be in participating in their own medical care. I can palpate him and examine Tito. I can look in his ears, his eyes, all the while he's having a little snack and really not noticing what's going on. So that just allows us to have an excellent level of animal healthcare from animals as small as naked mole rats to as large as our African elephants.

Prima the Hartmann's Mountain ZebraPrima the Hartmann's Mountain ZebraCourtesy of Disney

Q: What has been the most memorable part of working at Animal Kingdom?

  • Mark: I'm South African-born. I spent a lot of time growing up in wilderness and working with lions and elephants in the wild, and coming to Disney has just taken everything for me up to another level that I have never seen before anywhere else. It is absolutely exceptional, the degree of animal care, the quality of animal care professionals, the design element that our WDI, Disney Imagineering partners bring to it, is just like nothing I've ever seen.
  • Dan: I think for me, one thing that stands out is the great level of teamwork that goes on every single day here. It's no secret that we have a very large team—we have over 5,000 animals. I'm constantly amazed and my heart is warmed when I just see how much everyone comes together, literally on a daily basis, to continually raise the bar on that level of care and pour their heart and soul into it.

Keeper Lori checks on lions Kinsey and Dakari with crewmember for the showKeeper Lori checks on lions Kinsey and Dakari with crewmember for the showCourtesy of Disney
  • Rachel: For me, it is being able to have a great influence much further outside of this sphere. Dan said we all work as a team, but we are also working for the greater good, so we have the Disney Conservation Fund and we funded 100 million dollars since 1995, and that is huge. And to be able to be part of that and support that is really important to me because, while I'm working with these animals I am looking out for the greater good of all animals.

Q: Is being in the Animal Kingdom in person and watching this series like really being where the animals live?

  • Joe:  It is so weirdly real. And that could be just an illusion. But it's not, because of the conservation program, because of the action that happens behind the scenes. There is a way in which this park is weirdly real. It does reach out and touch the world, and right behind that membrane of make-believe is all this stuff that's super, super real that's happening.

Lou, the West Indian manateeLou, the West Indian manateeCourtesy of Disney

Q: Dr. Dan and Rachel, do you have any funny stories about working with the animals?

  • Rachel: There's always funny stories when you're working with these animals. I think one of the things that really surprised me and caught me off-guard with Gino (a gorilla) is that we were training one day and he's very intelligent and I just asked him to give me a behavior, and he started making up his own behaviors. That's actually a sign of higher intelligence. I was blown away and I actually was approached by some others because they heard about Gino through the grapevine. Stuff like that happens here every day and it's hard to just pick one thing, and hopefully you'll see some of those little snippets in the show.

Gino the silverback gorillaGino the silverback gorillaCourtesy of Disney
  • Dan: Probably what stands out to me the most, were my interactions with Kenya the giraffe (featured in the first episode). We try to make sure she has a really robust program for her health and we spent a lot of time getting her to participate in her foot care. I learned very quickly that giraffe do things at their own pace. You can try but you can't really make a giraffe do anything so we spent weeks upon weeks working with her and getting her to be able to participate and me being able to trim her hooves sometimes with a lot of sitting around and not much happening was just a reinforcer to me of what we're all willing to do in order to make the lives of these animals fantastic.

Kenya the Masai giraffeKenya the Masai giraffeCourtesy of Disney

Q: With modern animal behavior training focused on letting the animals making the choices, which animals have been the most challenging to persuade to make those good decisions?

  • Dan: Again, that fits right in with Kenya the giraffe. She's a beautiful creature that knows exactly what she wants to do at every moment of the day. She was the first giraffe we were ever able to actually trim the hooves of without requiring any level of sedation or anesthesia, and she gets to eat snacks the whole time. But I'm just a person. I'm just there to help her and do things according to her schedule. So that for me is probably the perfect example.
  • Rachel: I think for me, it's all the animals I work with. We work what we call protective contact. So I never ever go in with them so it is 100 percent that animal's choice and they absolutely do not have to even look at me. But we are able to do cardiac ultrasounds on gorillas, and it's because those gorillas come up to us and allow us to put gel on their chests and to put a probe on their chest. Without that relationship, you don't really get that volunteering to come up to the mesh to do training. For me it's really having a bond with those animals and making sure they want to come up there every single time because it is absolutely their choice.

Dakari the male lionDakari the male lionCourtesy of Disney

Q: What are you all hoping viewers will take away from watching “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom”?

  • Joe: Animal Kingdom is not really just about animals. It is about humans and our relationship to animals. Some of those relationships are good and some of them are not, and we want to reflect on all of those stories.
  • Dan: I think that one of the most important things that I hope people take away from watching this show is the human/animal bond. I think anybody who has a beloved pet at home understands how strong that bond can be. There are many people that equalize them to their children. It's simpler here. We love these animals and there is a real, palpable bond that I hope will come across when you watch the show.

Animal care trainer Judy with Wizard a Red Fronted macawAnimal care trainer Judy with Wizard a Red Fronted macawCourtesy of Disney
  • Rachel: I hope people really realize that what we are doing here is fairly cutting-edge. We're considered leaders in this industry and I hope that comes through in the show, because we're doing some really amazing things.
  • Mark: I would love viewers to recognize the amazing care that takes place here at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park and come and take a look for themselves. But also to understand why we do this, and that's because we're so passionate about protecting wildlife and wild spaces. And if we can just inspire people to think about nature and to take care of the nature in their backyard I will consider this a big success.

Courtesy of Disney

Watch “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom” on Disney+ starting September 25th

Do You Love Animals?

Do you wish you could love and interact with every animal in the zoo? Do you wonder about the care of animals in an upscale animal theme park like those run by Disney? Are you thinking of being a veterinarian when you grow up? Which is your fave animal? Leave a comment or blog on your profile page!


By: Lynn Barker