LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Sept. 23, 2009 – The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recently recognized Disney’s Animal Programs for conservation efforts to help protect the endangered Key Largo woodrat. During the AZA’s annual conference, the team received the Edward H. Bean Significant Achievement Award, which recognizes programs that contribute to the reproductive success of a species.
Since 2005, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in developing and implementing a recovery plan for the Key Largo woodrat, which is threatened by habitat loss along with an invasion of non-native animal species, such as the Burmese python.
During the very early days of the conservation program, animal researchers quickly learned that breeding this elusive species was a challenge since there was very little information about social structure, reproductive biology, or ecology. The Key Largo woodrats share little in common with the average city rat and are difficult to breed, having only about two litters per year of one to three pups.
Researchers also discovered that the nocturnal creatures also spend a lot of time building nests. “In the wild, Key Largo woodrats build stick nests that can be up to three feet tall,” said Andy Daneault, assistant curator of ectotherms for Disney’s Animal Programs.
Through diligent research, Disney animal experts found ways to successfully breed this nocturnal animal and have successfully bred nearly 30 Key Largo woodrats. The goal is to eventually reintroduce these captive-born woodrats to Key Largo to help increase the wild population.