A Mickey Mouse take on Africa: AND WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1999:
TOWN, HARARE, KAMPALA,
KILGALI, MAPUTO, NAIROBI– – T h e
defining attraction at Walt Disney’s Wild
Animal Kingdom is a 20-minute Mickey
Mouse version of an African photo safari.
Canvas-topped four-wheel drive
trucks haul guests on a jolting, twisting,
splashing drive through fake savannah and
jungle so seemingly real that many ask how
Disney moved the 400-year-old baobab
trees––or are they also native to Florida?
The fake baobabs stand among
more than 100,000 real African and Asian
trees which were either transplanted or grown
at the site, along with examples of 1,800
species of moss, ferns, and perennials, and
350 kinds of grass, each specific to the needs
of particular creatures.
The animal habitats are measured in
acres rather than square feet, and are divided
by seemingly natural rather than artificial
obstacles. Feeding stations are disguised: the
platforms for giraffe fodder, for instance, are
in the crotches of trees. Only an occasional
few inches of electric fence appear among the
shrubbery to break the illusion that this is a
Complained New York Times critic
Jon Nordheimer in 1998, “Re-creation of
habitats is so well-executed, in fact, that it
presents a problem. Lush vegetation furnishes
the animals with hiding places.”
Passing through the middle of many
of the wildlife habitats, the concrete road is
molded to look like dirt, complete with vehicle
and animal tracks. Some of the less dangerous
resident beasts may dash in front of
the trucks. Extra mirrors were added to their
sides after two crowned herons were inadvertantly
crushed in pre-opening rehearsals. The
mirrors have apparently prevented further
accidents––but driver/guides still warn pas
sengers that sudden stops or swerves may be necessary.
“Rehearsals” is the right word for the Disney staff
preparation. The Kilimanjaro Safari, as it is called, combines
wildlife observation with dramatic performance. The story line
begins just as the briefest attention spans might begin to wander,
about halfway through the ride, intensifying with ever
more frequent updates via the driver/guide’s radio in the last
five minutes. After the visitors see the lions, the last major
species on display, it’s all dramatic action.
“The people have to see the lions,” general manager
of animal operations Rick Barongi explains. “We’ve learned
from visitor surveys that no matter how common lions are in
captivity, people feel deprived if they come to a zoo or go on a
photo safari and don’t see lions. So we make sure that everyone
gets to see some at a climactic point in the ride, after building
their expectations as we show them the other species.”
Throughout the Kilimanjaro Safari the truck spends
just the two minutes in front of each major species that the typical
zoo-goer spends at each exhibit in an ordinary metropolitan
zoo. The safari is aimed at people who care a bit about animals,
but not necessarily in depth, and is timed to leave their interest
whetted, not satiated. The idea is to bring them back later,
with more friends, relatives and children––and meanwhile
encourage them to watch Disney Studios productions ranging
from The Lion King to serious documentaries. And, if anyone
really wants to see more of a particular species immediately, a
hiking trail permits additional views from on foot.
Meanwhile, because the closest visitors stay in the
trucks, and the trucks proceed in a non-threatening convoy,
the animals tend to go about their business just as they do
alongside the roads at real wildlife safaris, with just an occasional
glance at the passing crowd. It would be difficult to
imagine a less intrusive way for tens of thousands of visitors
per day to watch captive wildlife.
Walt Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom also includes a
Mickey Mouse version of an Asian wildlife-watching walking
tour, with an ascent into a ruined temple to view tigers; a bird
show similar to those of Sea World and the San Diego Wild
Animal Park; a train ride above the off-exhibit area, enabling
visitors to see and ask about any animals not on display; the
Affection Section, a petting zoo of goats and sheep, at an educational
center called Conservation Station; and Countdown to
Extinction, an indoor roller coaster ride to the moment a comet
hit circa 70 million years ago, killing off the dinosaurs.
Exiting, you get to watch the dinosaur you rescued
make fools of the security guards on closed-circuit TV.
The 14-story centerpiece Tree of Life is full of bugs,
as “old growth” generally is, including laser-created 3-D animations
who hover in front of a visitor’s face and imaginary
cockroaches who tickle the visitor’s fanny as they scuttle
toward the exit. The trunk is gnarled into wood-like concrete
images of 226 species: originally 225, with a chimp added at
special request of primatologist Jane Goodall.
The Wild Animal Kingdom is only one of the major
Disney attractions at Orlando, many of them incorporating animal
themes and design elements.
The Magic Kingdom, a 100-acre Florida edition of
the original Disneyland, opened in 1971. One of the newest
and most popular exhibits there is the ExtraTERRORestrial
Alien Encounter––which ANIMAL PEOPLE visited twice, to
make sure we really saw what we thought we saw.
Guests are ushered into an antechamber for a fiveminute
wait before anything else happens. Signs on the wall
and closed-circuit television describe X-S Technologies, a
Brave New World-ish alien-controlled conglomerate which
claims to be first in the universe in six high-tech fields. Four of
them presently exist only in science fiction. High-tech surveillance
and genetic engineering, however, are here-and-now––
and the latter is the breaking edge of concern about the treatment
of laboratory animals.
Just as guests begin to make the connections, they
are guided into a standing-room-only theatre. A sinister-looking
robot demonstrates how X-S Technologies has developed a
means of disintegrating living beings, beaming them to other
locations, and reassembling their molecules.
Imprisoned in a glass bell jar beside the robot is
Skippy, a warm, fuzzy mammal-like alien. As Skippy
screams in pain and terror, the robot recites vivisector cliches
about how he really feels nothing, and rationalizes the procedure
in the name of science. Eventually Skippy re-emerges
across the room in another bell jar, badly bedraggled and now
more reptilian than mammalian.
Gasping, the guests are herded into a larger theatre,
where they sit and are clamped into hydraulic chairs.
Supposedly they are to witness an experiment. Instead, they
become experimental subjects. The experiment goes awry. A
giant alien cockroach is inadvertantly transported into their
midst, smashing his way out of the transporter just as the lights
go out. All hell breaks loose.
The message is the same one expressed by fright literature
since Mary Shelley more-or-less began the genre with
Frankenstein (1818): technology is fallible. Arrogance assures
failure. Excess––or X-S––is to be restrained. And an arrogant
attitude toward the sacred secrets of life and death is a surefire
warning to proceed with caution.
No antivivisection society could reach the public with
as strong a presentation. But Mickey Mouse takes it to as many
as 10 million visitors per year.
Disney added the now closed 11-acre Discovery
Island zoo (now a mini-wildlife reserve) in 1974.
The 260-acre Epcot Center, essentially a permanent
World Fair, opened in 1982. Currently featuring European,
Asian, and African sections, it is soon to add areas representing
Brazil and Argentina.
The strongest pro-animal message at Epcot may be an
animatronics version of John Muir, holding forth in discussion
with Theodore Roosevelt about the importance of protecting
wild places. But The Living Seas aquarium exhibit is unique
among captive dolphin exhibition sites in allowing the five resident
bottlenose dolphins to take themselves off display any time
they want. They share an interlocking series of tanks with a
variety of reef fish and sea turtles.
Two of the Disney dolphins remain from a group of
six captured in 1985, several years before the 1988 Ric
O’Barry book Behind The Dolphin Smile made wild captures of
dolphins significantly controversial. Brought to Epcot in 1988,
four of the six died before 1993, three from injuries and accidents
which could be described as maladaption to captivity.
The other three dolphins now at Epcot are retired
from service in the U.S. Navy marine mammal program.
Epcot also exhibits several manatees who were hurt
so badly by speedboats as to preclude return to the wild.
Disney/MGM Studios debuted 1989. It has nothing
to do with animals––or does it? Some Animal Planet TV
episodes are videotaped live on the premises, a Beauty and the
Beast stage show depicts Gaston the mighty hunter in full villainy,
and a popular presentation about Disney cartoon-making
climaxes with the scene in which a hunter kills Bambi’s mother.
The Disney Water Parks, Downtown Disney, and
Disney’s Wide World of Sports were added at intervals
between the major developments.
The 500-acre, $800 million Wild Animal Kingdom,
the newest major site, opened to visitors in May 1998, after
seven years of preparation––and three years of anti-Disney
campaigning by the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.
ARFF initially asked Disney to “offer refuge for the
many unwanted exotic animals living in deplorable conditions
in this country”; “to make a commitment never to capture any
animal, including marine mammals, from the wild”; and to
“not breed any animal at Animal Kingdom or The Living Seas.”
In fact, Disney staff were already offering snowbelt
zoos the chance to retire aging African and Asian wildlife to the
bigger, better, and especially warmer Wild Animal Kingdom,
and had already pledged––including to ANIMAL PEOPLE––
that animals would not be captured or bred just for exhibit.
Like other zoos, however, the Wild Animal
Kingdom would accept compatible animals who might be captured
for other reasons, such as becoming a nuisance, and
would participate when appropriate in American Zoo
Association-directed Species Survival Plans, which mate
genetically differentiated representatives of endangered species
to maintain healthy zoo populations. Occasionally the offspring
are reintroduced to the wild. Their most important conservation
role, however, may be just helping to build and sustain public
interest in protecting their wild counterparts.
ARRF wasn’t satisfied. Neither was Friends of
Animals. In 1996 then-American SPCA wildlife program
director Kathy Travers asked the Wild Animal Kingdom to take
a small herd of African elephants and several hippos who were
slated for population control culling in South Africa. The Wild
Animal Kingdom management agreed, but withdrew from the
deal after FoA foreign representative Bill Clark fought it,
claiming it would somehow erode Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species protection of African elephants
against the export of hunting trophies and tusk ivory.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare eventually
saved the elephants and hippos by purchasing land for them,
added to the South African wildlife park system.
The CITES protection of African elephants cracked
anyway within seven months. Namibia, Botswana, and
Zimbabwe are now selling culled and/or seized ivory stocks.
On June 30, 1999, Mozambique minister of agriculture
and fisheries Agostinho Carlos de Rosario announced that
his government too will soon allow elephant trophy hunting and
sell culled ivory.
Learning that Mozambique may no longer have many
elephants left to hunt and cull, after 15 years of civil war
(1977-1992) largely financed by poaching, Mozambique director
of forestry and wildlife Arlito Cuco a month later
announced plans to restore elephants to Gorongoza National
Park and other reserves.
The Wild Animal Kingdom eventually obtained two
elderly hippos, Norman, 30, and Matilda, 48, from the
Oklahoma City Zoo.
Matilda, however, died of a heart attack in transit.
Four cheetahs and a rhino from other zoos died soon after
arrival at the Wild Animal Kingdom, apparently from having
ingested lethal objects or substances at their former locations.
Another rhino came from Germany with an infection that the
Disney staff couldn’t cure. Two captive-born clawed otters, a
species which does not eat vegetation in the wild, poisoned
themselves by swallowing loquat seeds––which most larger
animals would have passed without incident. The loquat trees
were removed from the vicinity of the otter exhibit.
Of the 1,000-odd animals brought to the Wild Animal
Kingdom in the nine months before it opened, 31 died before
opening day. That projects to an annual death rate of just under
4.3% per year. The U.S. human death rate––among the lowest
in the world––is currently 8.6% per year.
ARFF, in a full-page New York Times ad, on April
22, 1998 accused Disney of “abusing and killing animals,” as
well as “the capture, exploitation, and murder of wildlife.”
The ad cited 12 of the Wild Animal Kingdom deaths,
of which only those of the otters and the two crowned cranes
run over by a safari truck were the result of anything Disney
staff had control over; blamed Disney for the extinction of the
dusky seaside sparrow, the last four of whom disappeared in
1989 when a hurricane tore apart their cage at Discovery Island;
criticized the Epcot dolphin captures; mentioned 16 charges of
illegal wildlife “capture, care, and cruelty” brought against
Discovery Island staff in 1989 without noting that they were
brought as result of a failed attempt to avoid killing animals
according to USDA Animal Damage Control branch recommendation
(see below); and claimed that, “In the 1958 film
White Wilderness, Disney created the famous (and fictitious)
Death March to the Sea, throwing hundreds of lemmings to
their doom in the frigid Bow River of Canada.”
The “lemming” episode, among the most embarrassing
in Disney history, was actually faked in 1956 by the long
deceased biologist and independent film maker
Tom McHugh. McHugh used Arctic voles to
replicate an event that he incorrectly understood
had happened in Norway.
Walt Disney’s nephew Roy Disney
may be the only person still with the company
who had anything to do with making W h i t e
W i l d e r n e s s. He bought the footage unaware
that it wasn’t genuine. McHugh admitted the
fakery years later, not long before his death,
after learning that lemmings do not really rush
to the sea en masse when they overpopulate.
White Wilderness was withdrawn from circulation.
It reappeared in 1994, however, in
video format, and was reissued in 1998––with
blurbs highlighting the “lemming” segment.
The White Wilderness e m b a r r a s sment,
though apparently not of current concern
to the Disney video division, taught Walt
and Roy Disney, and the empire they built, to
retain top talent to authenticate anything else
they did involving animals. The first public
move toward creating the Wild Animal
Kingdom, for instance, came in March 1990,
when Living Seas aquarium zoologist and
marine biologist Kym Murphy was promoted
to vice president of environmental policy for
the whole Disney empire.
Murphy hired Rick Barongi and
Diane Ledder from the San Diego Zoo. There
Barongi was curator of mammals and director
of the Children’s Zoo; Ledder, now public
affairs manager for Walt Disney World Co.,
was a staff biologist.
Murphy and Barongi then assembled
an all-star advisory committee including
Society for Conservation Biology president
Dee Boersma; Peregrine Fund president
William Burnham; American SPCA president
Roger Caras; Wildlife Conservation Society
president William Conway; AZA conservation
and scence director Michael Hutchins;
White Oak Conservation Center director John
Lukas; Zoo Atlanta director Terry Maple; former
American Museum of Natural History and
Smithsonian Institution entomology exhibit
designer Ray Mendez; and Conservation
International president Russell Mittermeier,
best known for identifying several new primate
species in South America and Madagascar.
Jane Goodall got involved later.
The talent was attracted in part by
grants to nonprofit conservation and zoological
research projects averaging $4 million a year,
Jill Jordan Spitz of the Orlando Sentinel
reported in 1997, citing “Disney sources.”
Earlier in 1997, then-Disney director
of governmental affairs and external relations
Jane Adams told ANIMAL PEOPLE
about $2 million in Disney Conservation
Awards, issued to the International Rhino
Foundation, Jane Goodall Institute, American
SPCA, and World Society for the Protection
of Animals, for projects including developing
a breeding center for endangered Sumatran rhinos,
building a visitor center at Gombe
National Park in Tanzania, adding nest boxes
to the lemur facilities at Duke University, and
vaccinating domestic dogs in Africa to prevent
the spread of canine distemper to wildlife.
Disney committed $45 million in
1992 to buy and restore the 8,500-acre Walker
Ranch in northern, protecting natural habitat
for threatened wood storks, Florida scrub jays,
and gopher tortoises. Managed by The Nature
Conservancy, the site became the Disney
Wilderness Preserve in 1993.
In addition, Disney dedicated 7,500
acres of the main Walt Disney World Resort
complex to wildlife conservation.
Fault can be found with some of the
alliances. TNC, for instance, has been under
boycott by People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals since 1993, for using cruel methods
to extirpate non-native wildlife from sanctuary
land in Hawaii. But the boycott was called a
year after the Walker Ranch deals were signed.
The Wild Animal Kingdom is
among just a handful of zoos to whom major
hunter/conservationist groups come with hats
in hand, instead of the other way around. The
World Wildlife Fund, founded in 1961 by trophy
hunters to perpetuate hunting opportunities
in the then newly independent nations of
Africa, has always courted zoo support by
offering grants, political support, and materials
for use in public education.
After animal rights groups took categorically
anti-zoo positions in the mid-1980s
––failing to distinguish AZA-accredited zoos
from roadside zoos, and zoos seeking to
improve conditions from those that did not––
beseiged and embittered zoo directors became
increasingly receptive to hunter/conservationist
overtures. Ducks Unlimited, the National
Wildlife Federation, and many other consumptive-use-oriented
sponsor exhibits at many zoos, alongside
exhibits funded by for-profit corporations and
Until now, the linkage of hunter/
conservationism with what zoos teach has been
limited to general image-building. Ducks
Unlimited, for instance, recently funded a
new exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium, and
is prominently credited, but the exhibit does
not actively make a case for duck hunting.
Fort Worth S t a r – T e l e g r a m s t a f f
writer Chris Vaughn revealed on August 3 that
the Fort Worth Zoo within about a year intends
to take a big step farther, into pro-hunting
advocacy. “The exhibits of Texas Wild!, a 6-
acre mini-Lone Star State, will range from the
alligators and timber of East Texas to the
whitetail deer and prairie grasses of North
Texas,” Vaughn wrote. “And it will extol the
positives of hunting game.”
Heading the $35 million fundraising
campaign, Vaughn continued, are “Ramona
Bass, whose husband Lee is chair of the Texas
Parks and Wildlife Commission, and Hall of
Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, also a commissioner
Said AZA conservation and science
director Michael Hutchins, “I don’t think it’s
Fort Worth Zoo senior animal manager
Mike Fouraker told Vaughn that among
the species to be displayed, he couldn’t “find
one that has been harmed by regulated hunting,”
apparently dismissing individual animal
suffering as of no moral consequence.
Fantasyland “They think they can improve
nature,” objected Florida critic Carl Hiaasen
in 1998, touring the Wild Animal Kingdom
with Washington Post staff writer Peter
Carlson. “On some level, it’s creepy.”
Hiaasen is author of Team Rodent:
How Disney Devours The World. His arguments
echo those of French and Japanese critics,
who warn that the Disney parks near
Paris and Tokyo might erode cultural values.
But from a humane perspective,
promoting the Disney values of democracy,
ethnic tolerance, and kindness toward children
and animals may be just what the world needs.
“Unlike most film makers of his era,
Disney never made a film that glorified war,”
film critic J.G. O’Boyle recently observed in
an extensive review of Disney westerns published
by The Journal of Popular Film and
Television. Even in the middle of Disney’s
version of the Battle of the Alamo, one leading
character debunked any notion of war as an
“exhalted experience,” and termed it instead,
“a most miserable and untheatrical method of
suicide.” Disney’s Davy Crockett, unlike the
real one, defended oppressed Native
Americans. Disney’s Zorro rode for abused
Hispanic peasants eight years before the late
Cesar Chavez (a vegetarian) began attempting
to unionize farm workers.
Zorro, his father, and his mute servant
Bernardo all opposed blood sports in various
episodes, yet Zorro was obliged in four
plots evidently concocted by Disney himself to
repeatedly rescue a mountain-man trapper
named Joe Crane from troubles brought about
by his own uncouth ways and greed.
In hindsight, though, the hypermacho
Joe Crane’s rounded shoulders, breast
development, mincing walk, and bikini-like
homemade leather garments make him look
not only rude but perverted.
And, as perhaps Joe Crane’s only
good deed, he makes his last exit by befriending
and escaping with an abused wolf hybrid.
The coonskin cap fad touched off by
the Davy Crockett TV series in the mid-1950s
caused enormous animal suffering, via traps
and coonhunts––but the fad long since receded
into history, and it isn’t likely that the millions
of children who fell in love with the mischevious
raccoon Meeko in Pocahontas (1995) will
ever ressurrect it.
B a m b i (1940) and D u m b o ( 1 9 4 1 )
were the first major films, animated or otherwise,
to attack hunting and animal abuse in
circuses. 101 Dalmatians (1959) flattened fur
sales for five years––and helped make
Jacqueline Kennedy’s ocelot coat a 1960 presidential
campaign issue. Mary Poppins (1964)
includes the earliest known film depiction of
fox hunt sabotage.
When hunting organizations threatened
to boycott Disney over B a m b i, Disney
hit them again and again with The Fox and The
H o u n d, Beauty and the Beast, and P o w d e r,
among a string of other productions with
strong anti-hunting themes.
When fur trade organizations objected
to the 1991 re-release of the original 1 0 1
Dalmatians, a Disney spokesperson leaked to
Fur Age Weekly that Disney Studios was
already at work on a film in which star Glenn
Close would wear fur. Fur Age Weekly p r oclaimed
a fur trade triumph. Close was in fact
playing the fur-fiend Cruella DeVil in the liveaction
101 Dalmatians has been blamed for
creating a Dalmatian breeding boom that
brought ongoing Dalmatian gluts at many shelters,
but Disney did try to head it off by distributing
a brochure about Dalmatian behavior
and pet overpopulation produced by thenASPCA
representative Kathi Travers.
Beauty and the Beast (1993), set in
France, appeared several years after the
Disney theme park near Paris debuted. France,
with half again more hunters per capita t h a n
the U.S., has the strongest hunting tradition of
any western European nation. The 1796
French Revolution failed to secure “ l i b e r t e ,
egalite, fraternite,” but did win the right to
hunt. The 5.1 million French hunters killed
44 million birds in 1998––and marched,
150,000 strong, through Paris to protest environment
minister Dominique Voyon’s attempt
to shorten the bird season, to conform with
European Union conservation law. Defying
the EU, the French Parliament lengthened it.
It would be a stretch to credit Beauty
and the Beast with tipping the balance of
French public opinion against hunting.
Brigitte Bardot, for instance, has braved
intense ridicule by staunchly opposing hunting
for more than 30 years. Still, opinion polls
show the balance did tip. As of December
1998, 60% of French citizens declared themselves
opposed to blood sports of any kind.
In January and March 1999, backed
by European Court of Justice verdicts that
could cost France fines of more than $100,000
per day, Voyon tried again to shorten the birdshooting
season and to protect a small songbird
called the ortolan bunting, commonly
roasted and eaten whole as a show of wealth
and power by persons including French president
Alain Juppe and his predecessor, the late
Francois Mitterand. Some cartoonists reportedly
mocked Voyon as Belle, the beauty,
rejecting Gaston, the hunter, in favor of The
Beast. But public opinion favored Voyon’s
position more after three hunters physically
assaulted her on July 23, one of whom
punched her in the face.
M u l a n, perhaps the first major animated
film featuring an Asian woman as an
action hero, may be subverting the male chauvinism
of Japan and China by direct design.
M u l a n followed the debut of a Disney theme
park in Tokyo, and came three years into protracted
negotiations between Disney executives
and Beijing over building a long-rumored
theme park in either Hong Kong or Shanghai
––maybe one at each. (The dickering was dis –
rupted in 1996 when Disney funded a Martin
Scorcese film about the Dalai Lama.)
Measuring the Disney impact on
Asia will take time. Disney will, as always,
change visitors’ perspectives through entertainment.
The Disney message itself, sometimes
inconsistent, will evolve and adapt. But
it is not likely that a Disney theme park will
ever serve whale or dog meat, and is highly
likely that it will gradually elevate the status of
women, children, and animals.
The Disney world is, of course, a
carefully concocted fantasy. It differs from
other nostalgic and utopian visions, offered by
politicians and philosophers, chiefly because
it presents itself as a multi-dimensional construct:
not just a thought on paper, or translucent
image on film, but a series of places one
can actually walk inside and experience. It
may be illusion, yet it may be the largest and
most successful illusion of all time.
You want reality?
Reality, as pertains to the Wild
Animal Kingdom theme, is that on August 1
David Pleydell-Bouverie, 19, of Kimpton,
England, poked his head out of his tent to see
14 lions who had invaded Camp
Changachirere in Matsudona National Park,
300 miles north of Harare, Zimbabwe. Two
lions ate him alive.
Described by a female friend as
“bright and genial, with a taste for adventure,”
Pleydell-Bouverie had extended a wildlife
photo safari by volunteering as a cook for the
expedition firm Under Canvas in Africa.
Guide Bradley Fouche, 26, rousted
the lions by setting fire to his own shirt and
waving it like a flag. Wardens later tracked
and killed the pair of lions who seized
Pleydell-Bouverie: the dominant male and an
elderly female, who had a broken leg.
There are still 352 lions in
Matsudona, but keeping healthy populations
of lions and other large animals in African
wildlife parks is increasingly problematic.
Human habitation has encroached on the
wilderness, raising concern about predation
and––even more menacing––diseases such as
canine distemper and bovine tuberculosis, to
which the animals have little or no resistance.
Photo safari operators know as well
as the Disney staff the importance of showing
visitors at least one lion, along with elephants,
rhinos, giraffes, and leopards, called “The
Big Five” for short.
For that reason, the Okapuka Game
Lodge near Windhoek, Namibia, until late
May 1999 kept eight penned lions. Seven
were together: a female and two then-cubs
saved from a pride who were massacred as a
threat to public safety in 1993, plus their offspring.
Circa May 30, lodge warden Steyn
Lusse, 27, entered the pen to feed the lions,
for the entertainment of visitors. A young
male lion pounced him from behind and ate
him. Lodge owner Fritz Flachberger shot six
of the seven lions in the enclosure, then evaded
media questions about why he lacked permits
to have had them, John Grobler of the
Johannesburg Mail & Guardian reported, by
departing into the bush to capture a rhino.
Hoping to reverse a long trend of
regional predator extirpations, the Wild Dog
Action Group of the World Conservation
Union in May 1999 reintroduced wild dogs to
Pilanesburg National Park. In August 1999,
South African officials added six healthy lions
from the Pilanesburg area to the sickly native
lion population of 80 at the Hluhluwe/
Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.
The Pilanesburg lions, opined the
WildNet Africa news service, were “sent to an
almost certain death,” due to the prevalance
within the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Cape buffalo
herd of bovine TB. Yet with one 1997 exception,
the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi lions have all
tested negative not only for bovine TB, but
also canine distemper, a major killer of wild
African lions, and every other diseases
known or suspected of afflicting African wild
animals, according to Nature Conservation
Service veterinarian Dave Cooper.
Still, the lions look miserable, act
listless, and suffer high cub mortality.
Cooper suspects inbreeding is the
real problem. Ranchers had killed every lion
in Zululand by 1945. Then, Cooper recounts,
in 1958 “a lion arrived in the [then new] reserve entirely on his own steam. It is
believed that he wandered down from
Mozambique, pursued by every gun-happy
farmer in Zululand who had pretensions to
bagging a lion.”
The black-maned male, a possible
relict of the presumably extinct Cape lion subspecies,
survived alone for five years, evading
heavily armed motorized posses.
Then, “In July 1963, while MetroGoldwyn-Mayer
was making a film in the
reserve, a local stuntman secretly released a
tame lionness into the park,” according to
Cape Town Star reporter Tony Carnie, whose
information came from the memoirs of conservationist
Ian Player. “She was unable to feed
herself, and was shot a few nights later when
she began eating laundry on the front veranda
of a local ranger.”
That brought sympathetic attention
to the enforced celibacy of the male.
In 1965 two or three more lionesses
arrived. “It is suspected,” says Wildlife
Africa, “that they were smuggled in by game
rangers who wanted a lion population but did
not feel like filling in the forms.”
The current Hluhluwe/Umfolozi lion
population is believed to be descended entirely
from this limited gene pool.
The prognosis is more optimistic for
the seven wild dogs, whose release was sponsored
by Sun International, builders of the Sun
City resort 100 miles northwest of Johannesburg.
“Sun City offers four fine hotels and a
wide variety of sports, recreation, and gaming,”
publicists told us. “Its focus is The Lost
City at Sun City, a $190 million African fantasy
world featuring a man-made jungle, theme
park, and massive wave pool.”
In other words, a South African edition
of Walt Disney World.
The wild dog release is intended to
start a third population reservoir to offset the
decline of the species in the Okavango Delta of
Botswana. While the 300 wild dogs in Kruger
National Park, South Africa, are apparently
doing well, the Okavango wild dogs have
been in trouble since 1972, according to
Russel Molefe, environment reporter for T h e
Sowetan, of Johannesburg.
“The European Union opened its
beef markets in 1972 on condition that the
imported cattle comes from areas that are free
of foot-and-mouth disease. The Botswana
authorities then erected a network of fences to
limit the disease,” Molefe explains. “These
fences became problematic because they cut
off ancient animal migration routes. About
50,000 wildebeest subsequently died along the
fences as these barriers prevented them from
reaching traditional watering holes.”
The wild dogs could get by the
fences––but their prey could not, as American
conservationists Mark and Delia Owens documented
on film in the early 1980s. They were
expelled from Botswana for their trouble.
Relocating to Zambia, they started a
job creation project around North Luanga
National Park. This contrasted with the hunting-based
CAMPFIRE projects supported by
USAid in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and
with the “sustainable use” model promoted by
the World Wildlife Fund, because it was
entirely based on non-consumptive use of
resources. The Owens’ involvement came to
grief in 1997, amid conflict with hunters and
poachers, as ANIMAL PEOPLE reported in
April 1999. The North Luanga project continues
under sponsorship of the Frankfurt Zoo,
whose vision may be more conventional.
The Owens’ North Luanga project
and similar enterprises in parts of India,
Kenya, and Thailand might have been models
for the fictitious Anandapur project, described
on brochures distributed to Wild Animal
Kingdom visitors at the entrance to the
Maharajah Jungle Trek, subtitled a “Walking
tour through the Royal Forest of Anandapur.”
Explains the brochure, “All of the
wildlife on the Maharajah Jungle Trek depend
on the forest for survival. As more and more
forest is cut for human use (whether for wood
products or to provide land for farming) less
and less space remains for wildlife. This forest
provides jobs for the people of Anandapur and
encourages the local villagers to become
guardians of wildlife.”
The brochure doesn’t just talk about
conservation. “Our ancient traditions are centered
on compassion for all living things,” it
continues, “with a belief in the earth as the
common heritage and responsibility of all. We
are pleased you have visited, and hope you
will consider ways that you and your village
can help preserve natural habitats.”
The mention of compassion reflects
the a h i m s a tradition of Jainism, Hinduism,
and Buddhism––and Walt Disney’s own
belief that “Be kind to animals” is central to
The brochure could also be read as
an appeal on behalf of urban “nuisance”
wildlife. That too reflects Walt Disney heritage:
he defended coyotes in animated cartoons
such as The Coyote’s Lament and live
action features such as A Country Coyote Goes
Hollywood back when U.S. policy was still to
exterminate the species, if possible, with no
protest from either major conservation organizations
or humane societies
The Wild Animal Kingdom and surrounding
Disney attractions share a visible
presence and tolerance of non-captive wildlife
––especially birds. At Epcot Center, in the
time it took ANIMAL PEOPLE to drink a
cup of coffee, we enjoyed the nearby presence
of flamingoes, egrets, herons, spoonbilled
ibises, moorhens, mallard and Muscovy
ducks, mute swans, and Canada geese––an
interesting and evidently compatible mix of
resident exotics, ferals, and Florida natives.
At all four Disney theme parks ANIMAL
PEOPLE visited in four days of site
observation, we noticed subtlties of habitat
management to avoid allowing either native or
feral wildlife to become problematic. Grass
was left long around the parking lots to discourage
Canada geese, for instance, and
shrubbery was cleared back from canals and
ponds to deter nesting, while corridors of
dense cover were left nearby for predators
including coyotes, raccoons, and foxes.
Plagued by black vultures, who
were eating some of the resident animals and
defecating on visitors, the now closed
Discovery Island Zoo was in 1988 advised by
the USDA Animal Damage Control branch
(now called USDA Wildlife Services) that the
vultures should be shot. The ADC reportedly
offered to help Disney get federal permits to
kill the vultures, a protected species, and even
sent an agent with a shotgun to do the killing.
Disney had allowed sporadic
removal and killing of rats, feral cats, feral
pigs, stray dogs, and alligators, following
standard animal control procedure, and reportedly
still does when problems can’t be
resolved by nonlethal means. But Disney
wanted no part of killing a protected species.
Instead, Discovery Island zookeeper
Charles L. Cook and staff attempted relocation,
unsuccessfully, and then tried aversion
training. Vultures were caught, locked in a
hot shed without food or water, and later
released. But at least once they were not
released before some died. A raid by the
Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish
Commission found the evidence––and found
witnesses who testified that two senior staffers
routinely beat vultures and other wild birds to
death on their nests. Both men and other
Disney staff denied it. Resulting criminal
charges were eventually settled by plea bargains
which avoided specific admissions of
any cruelty. Disney paid a fine of $10,000,
donated $10,000 to the Florida Audubon
Society Center for Birds of Prey, and donated
$75,000 to a state wildlife trust fund.
Skeptical media noted that chief
state investigator Michael K. Sommer was a
12-year Disney staffer himself, who was laid
off in 1984. Later, as a Florida Game and
Fresh Water Fish Commission employee,
Sommer in October 1986 was said to have
been publicly scolded by Cook for taking an
allegedly reckless shot at an alligator who had
attacked an 8-year-old boy at the Fort
Wilderness campground. Sommer told
Seminole Tribe writer Peter Gallagher in 1990
that he did fire the shot, but denied that it
richocheted off the water and into the campground,
as a witness claimed.
Whatever happened at Discovery
Island in 1988-1989 did not happen again.
The involved personnel were reassigned, and
have had no part in the Wild Animal Kingdom.
A man whom some acquaintances believe is
the same Charles Cook was by November
1990 representing the Nature Conservancy in
Hawaii and Palau, on the farthest side of the
globe. Interviewing him by fax in early 1997,
ANIMAL PEOPLE found that he did not
seem eager to discuss his past.
“Is this conservation?” the ARFF
New York Times ad asked. “Or the same old
Disney routine of using animals for fun and
profit no matter what the cost?”
The same question might be asked