Around this time each year, veterinary care specialists conduct annual wellness checks on a roost of endangered bats as part of Disney’s commitment to excellent animal care.
The bats, known as Malayan flying foxes, receive complete physical examinations, including blood analysis, vaccination and dental cleaning in front of thousands of Guests who view the procedures from a large, on-stage window into a state-of-the art veterinary hospital. With a wingspan close to six feet, the Malayan flying fox is one of the largest bats in the world and can be seen on exhibit along the Maharajah Jungle Trek in the Asia section of the theme park.
“Guests are always fascinated with the amount of care provided to our animals,” said veterinarian Dr. Mark Stetter, director of animal health for Disney’s Animal Programs. “During this time of year, when there’s an increased interest in bats, we have a perfect opportunity to dispel some of the myths about bats and explain the important role bats play in the eco-system.”
Malayan flying foxes are mammals that eat and rest in trees and roost at dawn. As fruit-eating animals, bats assist in pollination and seed dispersal for a great variety of plants that are useful for lumber, food, medicine and other products. Bats are also helpful around the neighborhood where they eat mosquitoes and other bugs.
In addition to receiving annual exams, the male bats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom voluntarily cooperate in their own medical care, making veterinary treatment much easier and safer. Through training, bats willingly allow themselves to be weighed, spread their wings for inspection, or open their mouths for dental evaluations. The intent is to help the animals become comfortable with husbandry practices that help monitor their well-being.
About Malayan Flying Fox
Flying foxes have long, sharp, curved claws on their toes, which allow them to hang effortlessly upside-down in trees. The skin between the fingers is smooth and strong while the rest of the bat’s body is covered with soft fur. As the name suggests, the head resembles that of a small fox because of the small ears, long snout and large eyes.
Unlike most other warm-blooded animals, bats maintain a warm body temperature only when active. While sleeping during the day, their body temperature drops to the temperature of the air around them. In warmer temperatures, bats cool themselves by fanning their wings, licking their chest and wings, and by panting. When flying, legs work in unison with the wings, somewhat like swimming through the air.
- Bats are the only mammals that fly. Other mammals may glide through the air, but bats flap their wings and fly.
- The life span of a bat is about 20 years.
- Females of a colony give birth during a specific season, although the peak varies geographically. Most births occur in May and June.
- Gestation takes about 180 days, and usually a single pup of around 133 grams is born. Twins are rare.
- The young nurse for two to three months. The mothers carry their young for the first few days; then, the bats are left in the roost tree while the mothers forage for food.
- Sexual maturity is attained in 18-24 months.
- For the first few days, the mothers carry their young while they forage for food. Soon, though, the young bats are left behind during these hunts for food.
The elephant herd at Disney’s Animal Kingdom got just a little larger with the birth of a baby calf. Weighing 311 pounds, the male African elephant was welcomed into the group by his mother Vasha, 10 herd members and a team of animal care professionals assisting with the birth.
The 25-year-old mother delivered the herd’s sixth offspring after gaining more than 800 pounds during a 22-month gestation. This latest addition, which has yet to be named, is the second calf for Vasha, who gave birth to a female calf, Kianga, in 2004.
With support from the animal care team, the newborn, whose first tentative steps are becoming stronger and more confident, is now successfully nursing from his mother. Vasha has been getting to know the calf, gently touching the young animal with her trunk and keeping a watchful eye on him.
“The natural bonding between mother and calf is fascinating,” said Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., vice president of Disney’s Animal, Science and Environment Programs. “The team is encouraged by the early interaction between mother and calf and will continue to monitor them closely for the next several weeks.”
The next critical milestone is for the calf to continue the bonding process with his mother who will teach him important lessons and protect him as he gradually acclimates to the rest of the savannah herd over the next several weeks. With 12 elephants, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has one of the largest African elephant herds in North America, including four males and eight females.
Vasha became pregnant through artificial insemination in October 2009 and received extensive pre-natal care throughout pregnancy. Since early August, animal care teams have provided round-the-clock monitoring, regular ultrasounds and daily hormone monitoring to more accurately predict the beginning of labor. In the past few years, Disney’s animal care teams have been able to narrow the birth window to within four days, which enables them to better prepare for the delivery. With this birth, the team had been on heightened baby-alert since Monday.
This is the sixth elephant born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Others include:
- Tufani, a male, born in 2003;
- Kianga, a female, born in 2004;
- Nadirah a female, born in 2005;
- Tsavo, a male, born in 2008; and
- Luna, a female born 2010.
Disney has been at the forefront of efforts to better understand and care for endangered elephants. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is part of a breeding program coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that is focused on sustaining the elephant population in North America. AZA’s Elephant Species Survival Plan has called for a five-fold increase in African elephant reproduction efforts – using both natural and artificial breeding methods – in order to create a self-sustaining elephant population among North American zoos and wildlife centers.
Baby Elephant Facts
- Depending on the calf, it could take several days for the calf to coordinate trunk movements. Initially, it may only be able to wave it in the air, suck on it or trip over it. Typically within a week the calf has gained enough control to begin picking up small objects and food.
- Suckling up to 12 liters a day, baby elephants may depend on mother’s milk for up to three years, although they can be weaned at two years of age.
- Calves learn how and what to eat by watching the older elephants.
Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Resort
Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has announced the 2010 recipients of nearly $1.5 million in grants to protect vulnerable wildlife and ecosystems around the world. The funding enables nonprofit organizations to provide support for more than 45 species across the globe–from protecting the critically endangered Sumatran rhino in Indonesia, to tracking northern jaguars in the foothills of Mexico, to studying the threats of the endangered green sea turtle.
“As part of Disney’s longstanding commitment to the environment, the work supported through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund is more important today than ever in helping preserve our planet’s most precious resources,” said Dr. Beth Stevens, senior vice president, Environmental Affairs, The Walt Disney Company. “We are proud to support these organizations that are truly making a difference around the world to aid in the protection of wildlife and the natural environments they depend on to flourish.”
Over the past decade, the DWCF—through support from The Walt Disney Company and Disney Guests—has provided more than $15 million in grants for the study of wildlife, protection of habitats, land management plans, community conservation and education. Along with a focus on support for species and habitat conservation science, the DWCF encourages programs that engage local residents and benefit both human and animal communities.
Below is a highlight of some of this year’s recipients:
- Wildlife Trust: Black Lion Tamarin Conservation through Research and Community Involvement – Wildlife Trust teaches communities about sustainable development alternatives, including tree nurseries and handicrafts, to protect the black lion tamarins living in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest.
- Northern Jaguar Project: Northern Jaguar Feline Photo Project - In an effort to reduce jaguar mortality and build conservation alliances with rural landowners, Northern Jaguar Project works directly with local ranch owners in Mexico to monitor and protect the species.
- Save the Elephants: Elephants and Bees – Save the Elephants minimizes human-wildlife conflict by studying and researching innovative strategies to reduce crop-raiding. By using beehives as a deterrent, community crops are left un-touched and families have a new source of income through honey production.
- University of Hawaii: Conserving the Green Sea Turtle in Hawaii - This program advances the understanding of the impact of pollution on endangered green sea turtles. Through further research, conservationists are able to work more effectively with local communities and governments to protect the turtles.
- International Rhino Foundation: Sumatran Rhino Conservation - The Sumatran rhino is considered the most endangered rhino species with numbers declining more than 70 percent in the past two decades. International Rhino Foundation is protecting the species through research and outreach programs in local communities.
To date the DWCF has accomplished the following milestones:
- More than $1 million to primate conservation efforts
- More than $900,000 to protect cats worldwide
- More than $850,000 to elephant conservation
- More than $850,000 to study and save sea turtles
- More than $625,000 to rhino conservation efforts
Since 1998, the DWCF has also awarded more than $575,000 in Rapid Response funds to assist with more than 120 environmental and animal emergencies. In the past year, the DWCF has provided more than $125,000 to support efforts worldwide including veterinary care and vaccinations for animals in the wake of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti and rehabilitation efforts for the thousands of sea turtles affected by the winter cold snap in Florida. In 2009 additional support was provided through Disney’s Friends for Change: Project Green in which 100 percent of iTunes proceeds of the inspiring program anthem “Send it On” were directed to environmental charities through the DWCF.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., July 2, 2009 – Disney’s Animal Programs is leading an international coalition of veterinarians, conservation groups, zoos, universities and private industry to conduct a series of procedures to effectively sterilize male elephants to help reduce elephant overpopulation in areas of southern Africa.
The team plans to perform laparoscopic vasectomies on eight bull elephants in Swaziland’s Big Game Parks. For the past five years, the team has performed the procedure on nearly 20 male elephants in an effort to reduce the elephant birth rates in wildlife reserves, while maintaining normal hormone levels and common social behaviors for the individual elephants.
Elephant overpopulation in wildlife parks and reserves in southern Africa is a growing problem that can have devastating effects on the natural habitat as well as other animal species that live there. Wildlife officials in several countries are considering culling elephants in order to control the population growth.