Animal care experts from Disney’s Animal Programs returned Thursday from the Florida Panhandle with six Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles – among the most endangered species of sea turtles in the world – and two Green Sea Turtles injured by the spill. The Disney animal care team stands ready to help in the Panhandle as needed and rehabilitation facilities at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and at Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo & Friends are available for treating turtles and birds impacted by the spill.
“Oil can have a devastating effect on the health of sea turtles, marine mammals and birds,” said Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., vice president for Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives at Disney Parks. “Over the next several months, many of these animals will require intense medical treatment over a prolonged period. We want to be sure that we provide top-notch medical care wherever we can – whether it’s on a beach or in a state-of-the-art veterinary facility. Ultimately, our goal is to re-release these animals so they can once again thrive in the wild of our oceans and coastline.”
In addition, as part of the coordinated response to the spill, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF), supported by Disney’s Friends for Change: Project Green, has donated $100,000 to help with environmental and animal rescue efforts, including $50,000 to The National Audubon Society for their response in the Gulf. Another $50,000 in grants from the DWCF Rapid Response Fund is being awarded to various grassroots organizations assisting with the cleanup.
As a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, Disney Animal Programs supports the rescue and rehabilitation of more than 1,000 injured and orphaned wild animals each year. For this current effort, engineers and water science experts have already converted a backstage area into a temporary rehabilitation facility – setting up salt-water pools capable of housing up to 35 sea turtles.
Since 1986, Disney animal care teams have nursed more than 250 endangered sea turtles back to health. Earlier this summer Disney animal experts began care for seven Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles diagnosed with pneumonia. The turtles were moved to Walt Disney World Resort from facilities in Mississippi to make room for animals injured by the oil spill.
Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund provides annual awards to nonprofit conservation organizations working alongside their peers here and in other countries. A special emergency fund also helps animals and people in times of environmental crisis.
Two ailing Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are on the road to recovery after being brought to Walt Disney World Resort last month from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss. to make room for animals directly impacted by the Gulf oil spill.
The sea turtles, suffering from pneumonia, were flown to Orlando June 25 and placed in the care of Disney animal experts. Kemp’s Ridley turtles are among the most endangered species of sea turtles in the world. The two are being monitored in a special backstage area at The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot and will require several months of rehabilitation before they are released back into the wild. Progress so far is favorable.
“They’re doing very well,” said Tom Hopkins, animal operations area director for Walt Disney World Resort. “One still has a touch of pneumonia but is doing much better. The other sea turtle is eating more and beginning to gain weight.”
Animal experts at Walt Disney World Resort have extensive experience rehabilitating sea turtles. Since 1986, Disney animal care teams have nursed more than 250 endangered sea turtles back to health. Most recently, Disney animal experts cared for 15 green sea turtles injured from the cold weather snap that affected Florida earlier this year.
As a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, Disney’s Animal Programs supports the rescue and rehabilitation of more than 1,000 injured and orphaned wild animals each year. The team participates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other zoological facilities and conservation groups in the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership. The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot is a designated rehabilitation site for rescued manatees and sea turtles until they are well enough to be returned to their habitats.
Breaking up is hard to do – especially before Valentine’s Day. But for a team of animal care experts from Disney’s Animal Programs, saying goodbye often means a new beginning for the wildlife they’ve taken under their wing.
During the next few weeks, animal managers, veterinarians and behaviorists will wish farewell to dozens of endangered animals that will return to their native Florida habitat after spending weeks, months or even years with members of the Disney team. The animals range from a tiny, 11-ounce endangered rodent to a recently rehabilitated four-pound sea turtle to an eight-foot, 828-pound manatee. Whether flippers or feet, the common thread is that each one has received top-notch care as a reflection of Disney’s commitment to animal conservation and wildlife rehabilitation.
CRACKING THE CODE ON WOODRAT LOVE
Most recently, the animal care team collaborated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Lowry Park Zoo on the first-ever reintroduction of 14 Key Largo woodrats to the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Florida. The woodrats were bred at both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa as part of a recovery plan to augment the existing population found only in Key Largo. Scientists estimate that this native species has dwindled to about 500 after years of habitat loss, drought and the invasion of non-native animal species, such as the Burmese python.
“Although small in size, the Key Largo woodrat plays a larger role in the circle of life,” according to Anne Savage, senior conservation biologist at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “Through diligent study, we may be able to link these tiny rodents to the distribution of essential sources of food for other animals. That activity could facilitate the growth of fungus, trees and other fauna. That’s an important reason to be concerned about saving them.”
Prior to their release at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the Key Largo woodrats were placed in individual enclosures with nest structures designed and built by refuge volunteers. Supplemental food was provided for nearly a week while conservation biologists observed the animals in their new environment and felt comfortable removing the animals’ protective enclosures. Each animal has been fitted with radio-collared transmitter which will help scientists track their movements once released.
Breeding this elusive species was a challenge since scientists had very little information about social structure, reproductive biology or ecology. Through diligent research, Disney animal experts studied the behavior of this nocturnal animal and found ways to successfully breed 30 of the native species. Since June 2006, 18 litters have been born in Disney’s colony with litter size ranging from one to three pups.
Aside from scientific discovery, researchers develop special attachments to many of the Key Largo woodrats. “It feels similar to sending children off to college,” said Savage. “As scientists, we hope the woodrats have cultivated the skills to survive on their own and they will be successful in their natural habitat. It’s exciting to be part of this conservation effort and see them move on to their next chapter.”
VERO BEACH, Fla., Aug. 6, 2009 – With nearly 200 encouraging fans, a loggerhead sea turtle named Dory returned to the Atlantic Ocean after successfully laying eggs near the shores of Disney’s Vero Beach Resort.
Dory is one of 10 sea turtles participating in Tour de Turtles: A Sea Turtle Migration Marathon hosted by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC). The program is designed to spotlight the challenges facing sea turtles, with each participant representing a “cause” or threat to sea turtle survival.
Released from Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, Dory’s mission is to raise awareness of the effects of light pollution. Since sea turtle hatchlings rely on moonlight to find their way to the ocean, many become disoriented and drawn off-course by artificial light sources.
Ironically, Disney conservation biologists chose to name this sea turtle Dory after the often-disoriented, blue-colored regal tang fish from the Disney-Pixar movie, Finding Nemo. In this case, Dory the sea turtle had no trouble finding her way to the sea.
Researchers from Disney’s Animal Programs and CCC will track the chosen sea turtles by satellite technology during the next few months as they travel from their nesting sites to unknown feeding grounds. Through satellite technology, scientists may discover more about sea turtle habits at sea and identify migratory patterns that may hold the key to their survival. This knowledge helps researchers, conservationists and governing agencies make more informed decisions about sea turtle conservation methods and policies.
Each year, approximately 50,000 sea turtles come ashore in Florida each year, making it one of the most fertile nesting areas in the United States. Sea turtles are among the oldest creatures on earth and have remained essentially unchanged for 110 million years.
In the United States, as much as 90 percent of sea turtle nesting occurs in Florida, which serves as home base for several species of endangered and threatened sea turtles. Yet with as few as one out of 1,000 hatchlings surviving to adulthood, scientists are still trying to learn more about these mysterious creatures of the sea.
Audiences worldwide will be able to view the sea turtles’ progress online at www.tourdeturtles.org and watch the marathon unfold. Using an interactive, multimedia Web site, Tour de Turtles offers audiences everywhere the opportunity to learn about threats to sea turtles and follow their legendary migrations, while simultaneously conducting vital research.
As if the reasons for visiting Rafiki’s Planet Watch weren’t numerous enough, Out of the Wild, the area’s gift shop is now offering Adopt-A-Nest packages from Disney’s Vero Beach resort.
Up until now, the offer has been available exclusively at the Vero Beach Resort, but now guests at Walt Disney World have the opportunity to adopt their own sea turtle nest while benefitting sea turtle conservation through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF).
For the adoption fee of $50, guests will receive a Squirt plush toy (from Finding Nemo); a Disney Worldwide Conservation Hero Button; and an adoption certificate that lists the species of turtle and location of the nest. Guests can use their certificate number to track their nest’s success and possible hatchings on DisneyConservation.com. All proceeds go directly to the DWCF and sea turtle conservation efforts in Florida.