Disney's Animal Kingdom celebrates 20 years years of adventure

Apr 22, 2018 in "Disney's Animal Kingdom"

Disney's Animal Kingdom 20th Anniversary

From animal encounters, trips through the Forbidden Mountains of Everest and journeys to another planet - Disney's Animal Kingdom truly is a new species of theme park.

Here's a look back at some of the milestone dates in the evolution of Disney's Animal Kingdom over its first 20 years:

June 20 1995 Plans for “Wild Animal Kingdom” announced

August 4 1995 Groundbreaking for Disney’s Animal Kingdom

December 5 1995 The first tree, an authentic African acacia xanthophloea, is planted

June 12, 1996 Miles the giraffe is the first animal to arrive

October 5, 1996 A baby kudu is the first animal to be born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

November 4, 1997 Hope, a 14-year-old gorilla, gives birth to a male named Jabari

April 22 1998 (Earth Day) Grand Opening for Disney’s Animal Kingdom

January 1999 Accreditation from Association of Zoos and Aquariums (formerly American Zoo and Aquarium Association)

March 1 1999 Grand Opening of Asia, which includes Kali River Rapids and Maharajah Jungle Trek

July 1999 Tarzan Rocks! debuts

May 2000 Reproduction of Dino-Sue, the rare 65 million-year-old tyrannosaurus rex, on display in DinoLand U.S.A.

October 2000 Rafiki’s Planet Watch premieres

December 2000 Safari Village renamed Discovery Island

June 4 2001 Colobus Monkey Habitat Opens on Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (formerly Pangani Forest Trail)

October 2001 Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade premieres

November 2001 First phase of Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama opens with TriceraTop Spin attraction and midway games

April 18 2002 Primeval Whirl opens at Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama

April 22 2003 Plans announced for Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

May 2005 Lucky the Dinosaur, the first Audio-Animatronics figure capable of walking and moving independently, makes special appearances

April 7 2006 Expedition Everest opens

April 2006 Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund achieves $10 million milestone since its 1995 creation

January 2007 Grand opening for “Finding Nemo – the Musical”

April 22 2007 Inaugural “Party for the Planet” event takes place on Earth Day

February 16 2008 Paws in the Park event. Disney’s Animal Kingdom/Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives raises more than $13,000 for SPCA of Central Florida

April 22 2008 Jane Goodall Global Youth Summit visits the park on Earth Day

January 16 2011 Wild Africa Trek opens

June 1 2013 Wilderness Explorers program debuts to guests

June 1 2014 Festival of the Lion King debuts in its new home, the brand new Harambe Theatre.

May 2015
Harambe Market opens.

May 27 2016 Tiffins restaurant and Nomad Lounge open, nighttime experiences debut – Harambe Wildlife Parti, Discovery Island Carnivale, Tree of Life Awakenings and nighttime version of Kilimanjaro Safaris

May 28 2016 The Jungle Book – Alive with Magic live show debuts

December 2016
Lion-tailed Macaques debut

February 17 2017 Rivers of Light debuts

May 27 2017 Pandora – the World of Avatar opens

August 2017 Sumatran tiger cubs, Jeda and Anala, are born,

January 2017 Augustus, a baby hippo, is born

March 2018 Contributions to Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund total $70 million since 1995

April 22 2018 20th Anniversary milestone marked with Party for the Planet Earth Day Celebration, premiere of UP! A Great Bird Adventure and debut of the Pandora Utility Suit

Joe Rohde, Portfolio Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering

“It’s kind of unusual to stay attached like this to a single project for two decades, but there you have it…Disney’s Animal Kingdom is more or less the story of my life!! Even though it’s…like…twenty years old, there has never been a single day when we were not working on something that was going to go into the park or change the park. It’s a living thing, because it is full of other living things.”

“The super complex horticulture and landscaping of the park is part of what makes it alive. It isn’t managed to stay the same, but rather to continue to grow and change…to be as real as we can make it be. You would not believe how much work that takes!!

Djuan Rivers, Vice President, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

“Disney’s Animal Kingdom has undergone an amazing transformation in the past few years, but at its heart, it has always been dedicated to helping our guests create a personal connection with the world around us. As we approach this 20th anniversary milestone, I’m honored to have been entrusted with leadership of this unique park and to work with this incredible group of Cast Members who share the magic of nature with our guests every day.”

“Disney’s Animal Kingdom has seen a lot of change, and through all the amazing accomplishments, we have remained committed to bringing the magic of nature to our guests in ways only Disney can.”

Jane Goodall, Phd, DBE, Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute, L&U Messenger of Peace

“I have been involved with Disney’s Animal Kingdom since before the grand opening day 1998. From the start I was impressed by the scale of the park – it was especially magical to see four elephants able to disport themselves in a huge pool. How lucky I was to be allowed to climb the scaffolding and look close up at the amazing art work on the Tree of Life. The huge sculpture of David Greybeard, the only named animal on the Tree, was a surprise, sculpted specially for me.

Now, 20 years later, I think of all the animals and how many visitors have had a chance to watch them and learn about the importance of wildlife on Planet Earth. The Animal Kingdom provides an experience that is not only fascinating, but also educational as visitors hear stories about the importance of conserving animals and their habitats

The Disney Conservation Fund was established to support conservation efforts in many countries, including educational programs. I am particularly grateful that hundreds of young people in Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots have benefited from this fund in eighteen countries around the world. It is so desperately important that the next generations should be better stewards of the natural world than we have been.

Visitors to Disney’s Animal Kingdom learn to respect animals as individuals. They also come away understanding that each one of us makes an impact on Planet Earth every day. By choosing wisely, choosing to tread lightly on the Earth and thus conserve our precious and finite natural resources, we can ensure a better future for generations of people and animals to come.”

Anne Savage, Ph.D, Conservation Director, Disney’s Animal Programs, Disney Parks

“For the past 20 years, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has worked to help save wildlife and engage communities in helping protect the magic of nature. I’m so excited to see these care and conservation efforts continue to grow through the Disney Conservation Fund and our dedicated cast.”

Dr. Mark Penning, Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks

“We are proud to contribute to Walt Disney’s legacy of caring for wildlife and wild places. As a world-class leader in animal care and conservation, we are leading the way and reversing the decline of endangered and imperiled species. Through our participation in Species Survival Plans, we’ve been able to responsibly breed more than 200 species, thus ensuring diverse animal populations for the future.”

Discuss on the Forums
Article Posted: Apr 22, 2018 / 8:07am ET
View all comments →

CTXRoverApr 26, 2018

Really cool Tiffins talks tonight. Had the opportunity to meet and listen to Joe Rohde talk about some of his travels to Nepal, Bali, etc. and how they influenced the design of parts of Animal Kingdom. Dinner was fantastic. Between each course he would come and sit at each table and talk a bit more personally to everyone. Very nice and genuine person. At the end, everyone got the conservation fund book and the honey badger card he designed already signed. The honey badger became the official 'mascot' of the original design team after an encounter with one in Africa during their research trips. The story is on the back of the card. Such a cool experience

Prototype82Apr 25, 2018

Wow. Just wow! The 22nd was the perfect example of less-is-more. The decorations were beautifully subtle, the photo-ops were kind of fun, not going to lie(only cause I couldn't pass up the banshee one)...But onto substance - I missed the re-located ceremony only because I was misinformed that it was cancelled, which is kind of a bummer... However, I got to see the photo op with the original Cast Members from opening day which was followed by a MASSIVE macaw flyover; a huge highlight! I got to meet Joe Rhode without a print(I was told I was not guaranteed we would meet him, but it was standby.) - There was a mega-fan with a Joe Rhode action figure he made from scratch to have autographed. haha, Joe's reaction was amazing! Tiffins Talks with Dr. Joe Soltis was super interesting. Guys, the food...corn coconut soup, a raw venison pate(yeah I didn't realize it was raw until I re-read the menu afterwords. I love how adventurous Tiffins is!), lamb sausage, and to tie in with the bee-conservation theme; they had a honey-soaked pear with honey-flavored ice cream. Even the white chocolate garnish had a honeycomb pattern molded into it which was pretty darn cool. The event wasn't only informative, but some really neat perks came with it: a complimentary pin and Disney Conservation fund book were included. Planet Watch played host to some super-old macaws that have been around since their debut as opening day residents. The utility-suit conservationist in Pandora put on a great debut show in the morning. It was kind of a rush to see the new additions, however subtle that they were - One of the Discovery Island cast members showed me the new stained-glass inspired costumes that they debuted that day - each shirt shows a different ecosystem of animals. The weather was clear until the evening when it started pouring. As you can imagine, the Rivers of Light crowd was small. I was passing out some Earth Day prints of turtle and banshee watercolors I created for the event - When I presented one to one of the RoL hostesses, she was super-moved and thanked me and my sis by allowing us to view the show up on a special-viewing balcony. The day was less-is-more, and it's kind of neat that Earth's unpredictable weather situation granted my party with an unforgettable view at the end. When asking Joe what the greatest challenge of building Animal Kingdom was: "we needed to create a place that felt as real as the animals that were going to live in it." You can criticize how Disney chose to celebrate this event if you want, but I won't easily forget Earth Day 2018.

GlacierGlacierApr 23, 2018

I agree with your sentiment but not your typing skills. I got a wonderful safari trip on the 20th, right as the sun was setting. Hyena flopped on the ground like my black lab does, saw Augustus (I think that's his name) the baby hippo resting on momma and then fall backwards into the water, saw the lions just relaxing in the clearest I'd ever seen, and a wonderful giraffe run back and forth in the simultaneously most silly and most beautiful thing ever. Nothing can compare to the wonder of seeing living animals not only comfortable but content in the closest to their natural habitat that can be provided.

Walt dApr 23, 2018

I did not think ak was going to be that great. On my first vist, then by the end of the day i, found out i was wrong . All the work joe. And every put in, wow. On one of my Safari trips. The truck had to stop as a big, rhino rolled in a mud puddle in front of the truck. To get mud on him, as it got hotter out just like a puppy. That was, no anima Tronics there! Ak rocks!

wdisney9000Apr 23, 2018

Baseline Tap House Green Flash Kick Starter and Scrimshaw Pilsner

EricsBiscuitApr 23, 2018

I got in the line around 2:00~ when they still had it open. The CM said since I don't have a wrist band I wasn't guaranteed to meet him and I waited like 25-30 minutes but I finally got to meet him.

wdwmagicApr 23, 2018

That was highlights. Here is the full thing

Clyde BirdbrainApr 23, 2018

You got into the ceremony AND met Joe Rohde without buying the print?! Man, I should have hung out with you yesterday. After CMs told me that the ceremony had moved indoors and was for invited guests only I got in line for the print. No one I asked could tell me how much the print was. After a while I heard someone say it was $55, so I got out of line. I didn't want to spend that much. I asked a CM if it was possible to meet Joe Rohde without the print and I was told no. Around 3pm I went to check out the signing to watch the imagineer from a distance and I saw that hardly anyone in line had the print and people were getting anything signed from park maps to tote bags and t-shirts. I went to the back of the line, but it had just closed. I'll try this again in 5 years.

Jedi StitchApr 23, 2018

My wife's favorite park is DAK. On a return trip to WDW, she would love to have a Savanna Room at DAKL. Kinda neat that the 20th is low key. Getting to meet Joe, would be awesome. I thought it interesting that there was a lot of negative comments about the celebration. I would think if Disney pumped it up and went over the top everyone would have complained about the crowds, the heat, long lines, not being worth it. Just saying is all.

disneygeek90Apr 23, 2018

Surely this wasn't the whole thing? Edit: Found it.

disneygeek90Apr 23, 2018

They must have opened early. I walked into the entrance about 8:30 and was in line at FoP over the bridge leading to Africa by 8:45.

disneygeek90Apr 23, 2018

Damn, I was there about 830 and asked the cast member who said you had to have a special ticket to enter. Went over to FoP and was on in 45 mins, so I'll take that as a consolation prize. Repped my 20th Shirt and magicband yesterday and checked out the Up show. All in all a great day.

NearTheEarsApr 23, 2018

We bought our Epcot shirts from the app while waiting in the traffic to get into the parking lot that day. It was a good move.

KrazyKatApr 23, 2018

I would definitely have to say Joe Rhode is Disney’s most famous Imagineer. We were walking around AK Lodge last year when we stumbled by accident into a private event and Joe was standing there talking to some people. I told my wife “there’s Joe Rhode” and he was nice enough to wave and say hi.