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Discovery Island

Discovery Island to Close

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Published in The Orlando Sentinel on March 26, 1999.

One of Walt Disney World's oldest attractions has fallen prey to one of its youngest.

Discovery Island, an 11-acre zoo whose attendance has been hurt by last year's opening of Disney's 500-acre Animal Kingdom, will be closed on April 8, exactly 25 years after it opened.

The move means an end to Disney's second-oldest Central Florida attraction and marks the first time the company has closed one of its ticketed attractions.

The end of Discovery Island -- the last home of the now extinct dusky seaside sparrow -- has been in the works since Disney announced plans for its fourth major theme park, which opened in April 1998.

"Our guests have so many more choices. And they are choosing other things," said Diane Ledder, a Disney spokeswoman. "It's a little bit sad when we say goodbye to an old favorite, but change is part of the process."

While the park -- originally called Treasure Island -- will close to the public in two weeks, it is expected to take six months to close altogether. Disney must find homes for the park's inhabitants, which include more than 130 species of animals. Most are birds but the park also has Galapagos tortoises and ring-tailed lemurs.

Some of the animals will be moved to Animal Kingdom, while others will be transferred to zoos around the country.

Disney's decision to close the park after so many years came as no surprise to long-time tourism observer Abraham Pizam, a professor at the University of Central Florida.

"It was sentimental to some people at Disney but it was never a major attraction," Pizam said. "That land is very valuable. Why waste it on something that doesn't generate much profit?"

Ledder said no plans have been made for the 11-acre island. "They are considering a number of things, but nothing has been finalized," Ledder said.

Insiders have said a number of ideas are being considered, including:

A day long treasure hunt, in which families would use a treasure map to search for clues on a pirate-themed island.

A wilderness camp called Camp Hakuna Matata, based on the "no worries" them from Disney's The Lion King movie.

Four luxury honeymoon cottages.

Discovery island has never been a high-profile Disney attraction, yet it has made headlines on at least two occasions.

In the 1980s, it was home to the few remaining dusky seaside sparrows. The last of the species died in 1987. Two years later, four sparrows that had been crossbred with the dusky were lost during a storm that swept through Disney World.

Also in 1989, Disney was charged by state and federal officials with 16 counts of animal cruelty stemming from the deaths and mistreatment of vultures and other birds on the island. Charges were dropped after Disney made improvements at the attraction, and company officials never admitted any wrongdoing.

The island in Disney's Bay Lake, near the River Country water park, was named Raz Island from 1900 to 1937, after a family that lived there. The island also was the home of Florida's first radio disc jockey, Radio Nick, in the late 1930s, according to "Since The World Began," a history of Walt Disney World.

Disney bought the island, which was a hunting retreat at the time, in 1965. When opened as Treasure Island, it was Disney World's second attraction, following the 1971 opening of the Magic Kingdom.

The company since has opened many more attractions, including three more theme parks and three water parks. But Discovery Island is the first attraction that charged a separate admission to close its gates.

Tickets to the park are $12.67, including tax, for adults and $6.89 for children.

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