Friday, March 4, 2011

New Blog Website


Just to let everyone know, I've filled the free 1 GB of storage that blogspot allows for picture storage, so I've decided to start another blog page. If you'd like to read my latest blogs, please head on over to

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Smilin' at a Crocodile

One of my favorite things to do at work is operating the animal positions. We stand in front of one of the animal exhibits and talk to Guests about them. There are several different locations, but my absolute favorite is the American Crocodile.

What's the difference between a crocodile and an alligator? Well, there are a few... One of the major differences is in the shape of their snout. A crocodile will have more of a V-shape at the end of their nose, while an alligator's will be more U-shaped. Also, a crocodile will have a "crocodile smile." You can see their fourth tooth poking out upwards from the bottom of their mouth. An alligator, on the other hand, has a pocket for this tooth in their mouth, and you will only see their teeth pointing downwards. For me, the teeth is the easiest way to tell the difference. 

"All modern alligators and crocodiles are descendants of the
crocodilians - an ancient family of reptiles that flourished in the
Late Cretaceous. Found throughout Central America and the
northern coastal areas of South America, the American Crocodile
preserves many primitive characteristics from that era."
"Range: South Florida, Central America to northern South America"

"The males are capable of growing up to
20 feet. Living in both freshwater and
brackish coastal areas, they feed mostly
on fish and other aquatic animals. Threats
from hunters and habitat destruction pose
a continuing challenge for this species."

Found in Dinoland U.S.A across from the KDC, this 12-foot-long croc is not to be missed. He weighs about 700 pounds, but we're not sure of his exact weight; he's actually too heavy to be weighed right now.

He was rescued when he was young off the coast of Jamaica after a hurricane in the 1960's and named Marley (I believe it was 1969, but I'd have to double check to make sure...). Based off of the time he was found, we can assume that Marley's in his 40's.

During the hot summer months, Marley will eat about 8-15 pounds of meat per week, and when it's cooler, he'll eat less. Their bodies work differently than ours, and crocodiles are very still creatures, so they don't need to eat as often as we do. They are opportunistic hunters and lie in wait until their prey comes along, ready to snap at a moments notice. It also takes a lot of energy to move around 700 pounds of crocodile, so it's more energy efficient for them to remain still.

Another cool thing about crocodiles is that they're cold blooded, which basically means they can't produce their own body heat or sweat like we can. They have to thermoregulate, or control their own body temperatures. In order to do this a crocodile will sometimes open it's mouth, releasing heat. The process works in a similar manner to a dog panting. 

Marley with his mouth open to regulate his temperature
Crocodiles also have small "plates" on their backs, known as osteoderms. They fit together and help form a layer of protection, though the crocodile has no natural predators.
Marley's osteoderms
Despite this, American Crocodile is endangered. Habitat destruction and hunting are the two major threats this amazing animal faces. Florida is one of the only places where you can find both crocodiles and alligators, and it's important that we work to save these creatures worldwide.

One of the ways we can help out is by contributing to Disney's Worldwide Conservation Fund. It's a great program that works to protect endangered animals worldwide. Another great way to help out is to just learn more about them. The more people that know the importance of protecting them, the better!

Be sure to check Marley out the next time you're in Dinoland U.S.A! He's quite a sight, though sometimes chillin' out along the wall, so you might have to look a little bit.

If you have any questions about Marley or crocodiles, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Soarin'... The Scratch and Sniff Version

Soarin' is AMAZING! Found in Epcot's pavilion known as "The Land," this attraction consistently and constantly draws crowds of people, contributing to it's generally long wait times. According to the Disney World website...

"Soarin' is a multi-sensory attraction for big kids, teens and adults in Epcot theme park that simulates a peaceful hang-gliding flight over the Golden State of California.
Fasten your seat belt on the multi-passenger glider and be lifted 40 feet into the air. Swoop up and soar towards the clouds and spectacular California panoramas. An IMAX projection dome wraps 180 degrees around you, so you're engulfed by the impressive scenery.
Special cameras on airplanes and helicopters captured many of the shots and the glider moves the same way the aircraft did, so you really feel like you're flying as you glide over such awe-inspiring vistas and landmarks as :
  • San Francisco
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Redwood Creek
  • Napa Valley
  • Monterey
  • Lake Tahoe
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Camarillo
  • Anaza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • San Diego
  • Malibu
  • Los Angeles
Get a bird's-eye view over a PGA West golf tournament, a skiing and snowboarding exhibition, and float above cowboys on horseback as they race through the wilderness.
Feel the wind in your hair. The air fills with the scent of orange groves, evergreens and the sea breeze. Your feet dangle free. Dip down so close to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, you think your toes will get wet. Then return to the sky and continue on Soarin' to a fantastic finale where fireworks burst into sensational colors around you."
In other words, Soarin' is AMAZING! 
Soarin' entrance

It was designed by Mark Sumner, who figured out how to make the ride system work wile playing with an old erector set over Thanksgiving. Riders board one of several "hang gliders" each with three rows. (I think the first row is the best... No feet hanging above you.)
the often coveted Soarin' fastpass

Soarin' fastpass distribution
When the attraction starts, you're gently lifted into the air over a projection screen. Before you know it you're floating along over California, enjoying the view from up above. 
Though the video itself is really cool, the smells are one of the details that really make this attraction. While you fly over the forest you can smell the pine trees! My absolute favorite smell is the orange groves, and don't forget the ocean breeze! It's too bad they don't sell the scents as air fresheners; I bet they'd sell like crazy!
I was excited today when I stopped over to ride Soarin' and saw these...

... Soarin' scratch and sniff t-shirts! Woah! I could actually smell them too as I took the pictures... Possibly the next perfume replacement? Apparently, they come in orange and pine tree versions. I'm not sure how well the printing lasts if they're "scratch and sniff," but I thought they were pretty creative. 
If you're interested in some Soarin' trivia check out this link... WDWRadio: Soarin'

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spike and Annie

As I mentioned in an earlier blog about the Conservation Station, Rafiki's Planet Watch is home to a veterinary window. Here, usually earlier in the morning, you can get a sneak peak into the veterinary care of a few of the animals at Animal Kingdom. 

This past week, I just happened to have the two days off that the Giant Anteaters had their annual check-up. Every animal in Animal Kingdom receives an annual check-up, just to make sure that everything is okay and to receive any vaccinations they may need. 

On Thursday, they started off with Spike, the male anteater. The check-up began with x-rays, which were taken in an area backstage. There was a window that we could see though, but your view was limited, so they had a camera projecting a much clearer image for those interested. 

limited view into the x-ray room
view into the x-ray room from the camera
the general operating/examination room

an x-ray from Spike
In order to keep track of every animal on Animal Kingdom Property, Disney uses a common method of tagging. A small chip, about the size of a grain of rice, is placed in the animal. It works like a bar code, and can be scanned to bring up specific information about each individual. Some animals are too small to be tagged, like the frogs and invertebrates. Instead, they are identified by unique body patterns, markings, or by numbers. 
They had an anteater skull on display as well. Anteaters have a hinged jaw, so their mouths only open wide enough to let their 2 foot tongue stretch out to reach some insects or termites. They have no teeth, but they use their sticky, wet tongue to slurp up the bugs and push them against the rough roof of their mouths. At Animal Kingdom, our anteaters are fed a diet of insectivore, which are pellets consisting of several types of bugs and nutrients, as well as the occasional fire-ant-infested log and overripe, mashed fruit. Termites, we were told, are a special treat. Another little tidbit of information we were given, was that the doctors had to be careful about keeping the anteaters tongue in its mouth. If the tongue would become extended, it would be difficult to get it back in while the animal was under anesthesia, and it could potentially dry out. The upper tongue muscles could also become damaged, so the doctors were very aware of this. 

 One of the really cool things about the veterinary presentations, is that there's always a presenter on hand, telling you about the procedure that's happening in front of you. If you have any questions, you can ask them. If they don't know the answer, they can pick up a nearby telephone and speak with one of the vets, specialists, or keepers inside the examination room.
asking the keeper a question
 After his x-rays were done, Spike was carefully carried into the examination room. Apparently, any animal 500 lbs. and under will be examined in this room. At 130 lbs., Spike was light enough to be placed on a normal, human operating table.
carrying Spike to the examination table

 In these pictures, you get a great look at his beautiful bushy tail, which they sweep over their bodies when they sleep at night. The females also use their tails to camouflage their young as they carry them on top of their hips and lower back area.
 For the examination, Spike received an ultrasound on his heart. We were told that anteaters are generally more susceptible to heart problems, and they wanted to make sure that nothing was amiss with Spike. They also took blood samples to run some tests on his blood, just to make sure everything was in order.
beginning the examination
finding a vein to draw blood
drawing blood
taking the ultrasound
I believe they're checking his mouth and tongue 
 Once his examination was complete, Spike was transferred back into his crate to wake up. It would be difficult to wake him on the table, as he would want to move around. Obviously this would put him in a dangerous situation. Also, he has been trained to walk into his crate and is naturally quite comfortable there, making the crate his best and most relaxing option.
transferring Spike to his crate
 His tail was placed over his body, just as an anteater would normally place their tail over their body if they were asleep.
The top was put back into place, and Spike was taken backstage, where he could be woken in a darker, quieter area. 
The female Giant Anteater, Annie, had her check-up the following day. Generally, she had the same procedures to check her heart and blood work. An ultrasound was also performed on her uterus and ovaries to make sure everything was as it should be. She has never been pregnant or given birth, but they wanted to ensure that nothing was abnormal. They also took x-rays. 
Annie's x-ray
taking an ultrasound 
the table of equipment used for the anteater check-up
The anteater keepers are the two on the right in this photo. They're there to help keep the anteaters comfortable, should they awaken slightly from their anesthesia. 
Sometimes, when the occasion arises, they'll let you speak in a microphone from our side of the window directly into the examination room. An individual who is not actively performing the examination on the animal will step off to the side and take the time to answer any of your questions. It's great to be able to have that interaction. 
speaking through the microphone
view of the purple medical tape on Annie's feet
finishing up the examination
After her check-up, Annie was transferred back into her crate, just as Spike was. Once there, she actually had to have a little bit more blood drawn, because her original sample had clotted and they needed a new one. 
moving Annie to her crate

transporting Annie backstage... I'm not sure if you can see it or not, but she was actually starting to wake up at this point. They come out of the anesthesia very quickly.  
Seeing the anteater check-ups was very interesting. Besides check-ups they'll also perform surgeries and other medical examinations here. You never really know what animal will be operated on or what the procedure will be until that day, so if your interested, I would highly recommend heading to Rafiki's Planet Watch first thing in the morning and checking out the schedule. It's not something you'll want to miss!

If you have any questions about the anteater check-ups, feel free to post them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer or find out the answer!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Headed to the Conservation Station

The Conservation Station is another of Disney's often overlooked hidden gems. Once in Disney's Animal Kingdom Park, Guests must board a train from Africa to reach this wondrous location.

 The theming in this area is, of course, in Disney fashion and very detailed. For example, take a look at the ticket office...
 ... and other stops the train may make...

 ... and the storyline doesn't stop there. Once you board the train, your still a part of the adventure. Signs remind you that there's no cooking on board...
 ... and to watch out for those poachers.
 Not only does the train serve as a mode of transportation, you also have the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at some of Animal Kingdom's backstage areas, such as the rhino barn...

 ... the elephant barn...
 ... and the giraffe barn.
 As you approach the station, you catch a glimpse of the beautiful mural that adorns the outside of the building and much of the interior as well. All of these animals are endangered, but the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund is working around the globe to help protect these animals. While in the parks, you purchase a Conservation Button by donating a dollar or more, and 100% of this donation goes towards protecting these endangered animals and the beautiful world we live in.

 Once you reach the station, Rafiki leads you down the pathway to Rafiki's Planet Watch, the main building and attraction at the Conservation Station.

 You also, however, encounter several other things along the way. First up is the tamarins. There's usually a person on hand to talk to you about them, but they're really cute and somewhat small monkeys that are currently endangered.

One of the Kids Discovery Clubs is also located here. Kids (and adults) are given a plastic board and a crayon, listing animals to search for in our backyard. They may even find some of these little critters in their own backyards. The Conservation Education Presenters who were working at that time, DJ and Amanda were kind enough to smile for me...
Afterwards, just follow old Rafiki, he knows the way...
 Next thing you know, you've reached the station. Here you can either go inside, or walk directly to the left to our animal affection area, where you can pet the goats. Please no feeding though! "Our yummies are not good for their tummies!"
 Inside Rafiki's Planet Watch, the massive mural continues.
 If you look closely, the mural is a burst of diversity. As you walk inside though, the animals become more spaced and leached of color until finally, it dissipates to nothing, ending with the gorilla. I don't have a picture from the inside; you'll have to go check it out for yourself! There are also several Hidden Mickey's dispersed within the mural.
 One of the really cool things you can see here is the vet procedures. They usually occur right away in the morning and a schedule is posted in the window. The day I was there, the anteater was getting his annual checkup. (I'll write more about this in a later blog.)

There's a window where you can check out the amphibians...

 ... a few invertebrates...
 ... and even an animal nutrition window, where you can speak with some of the nutritionists and see some of the diets they prepare.

 Computers are provided, where you can check out different conservation initiatives, and even things you can help out with in your local area.
 Characters are present throughout the day, like Jiminy Cricket, Pocahontas, and Rafiki himself.
The Song of the Rainforest is a really cool experience. 
 You go into one of several rooms, where you'll find 6 different headphones. Once your party is settled in, you press a button, the lights dim, and the sounds begin.
 Grandmother Willow takes you on an audio journey of the magic of the rainforest, sharing the trials that the rainforest also faces, such as destruction due to human involvement. Its a moving message.

Don't forget to check out the snakes!
 At another area, you can take a peek through cameras stationed in different animal locations around the park. It's pretty neat. As an added bonus, you can steer the cameras yourself! Don't see an animal? No problem, just take the camera for a spin or switch to another!
They also sometimes have animal presentations throughout the day. From what I've seen, they usually come out with some sort of avian creature or insect friend to talk with Guests about. 
Then, when you're done with your adventure, it's time to head back to the train, as it is the only way for Guests to enter and leave the Conservation Station.

One of the great things about Animal Kingdom is the decor, and these benches at the station are no exception. In fact, these benches are more than great decoration; they're actually made from recycled plastic bottles. Neat huh?
All aboard!
On your way back to Harambe, you'll catch a glimpse of a few more backstage areas. This happens to be the back of the popular show, Flights of Wonder.
Before you know it, you're back in Harambe, ready to embark on your next big adventure! The Conservation Station is such an amazing place. I wouldn't take a trip to Animal Kingdom without taking a few minutes to visit and explore. There's just so much to discover, and you never know what you'll find. Have a wild time!