In Kissimmee, we love nature. From a relaxing day spent at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park to exploring Wild Florida Airboats & Gator Park, there’s no side like outside! Beyond just enjoying the beauty, it’s essential to protect the natural world around you, as well as the animals that call it home. That's why we're so proud of all the conservation efforts happening in Central Florida. Today, we’ll shine the environmental spotlight (which uses an energy-efficient bulb, naturally) on four Kissimmee attractions that are environmentally friendly, as well as ecologically responsible.
The Thriving Animal Kingdom
At 580 acres, Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park is the largest theme park in the world. There's a good reason for its impressive size — the park is home to about 2,000 animals and hundreds of species. As you might expect, it's essential to ensure every creature has plenty of room to roam. But beyond those wide-open spaces, the Walt Disney World® Resort is dedicated to providing the wildlife that lives at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with everything they need to thrive.
The first thing you'll notice when visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom is that it's quite removed from the rest of Walt Disney World. This is intentional to ensure minimal disruptions for the animals that live here. One thing you won’t notice, however, is fireworks during the park’s dazzling nighttime show. As anyone who lives with a dog or cat can probably tell you, fireworks are no fun for many of the animal friends.
Beyond teaching visitors about the creatures who inhabit the planet, Disney’s Animal Kingdom conservation team also works to bring species back from the brink of extinction. For example, in 1999, a white rhino living in the park gave birth to a female calf. In 2006, the calf, Nande, and another rhino, Hasani, were moved to the Ziwa Animal Sanctuary in Uganda — a country where the white rhino was previously extinct. The goal was to reintroduce this beautiful species to the country, and in 2009, something amazing happened. Nande gave birth to a male calf, the first to be born in Uganda in more than a quarter-century! Today, 24 white rhinos are living at the sanctuary, and it all started with Nande.
Scientists from Disney’s Animal Kingdom also teamed up with the non-profit organization Save the Elephants to develop technology that enables tracking of these massive beasts using GPS and motion sensors. These trackers have become essential in curbing anti-poaching efforts in countries like Kenya, while also providing critical data to help researchers plan for the long-term survival of the species.
Preserving a Precious Ecosystem
Disney's commitment to conservation goes beyond Disney’s Animal Kingdom. For proof, make your way to the Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve — an 11,500-acre reserve near Kissimmee that is known as a model for sustainable development and state-of-the-art conservation management. It’s home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, including gopher tortoises, bald eagles, Florida sandhill cranes, and Florida scrub-jays. The reserve is also open for you to explore via a 1-mile hiking trail leading to Lake Russell, or a longer 2.5-mile loop.
More than just a beautiful slice of nature, you'll find a lot of important work is done here as well. The Nature Conservancy teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce the red-cockaded woodpecker to the region. These woodpeckers, threatened by habitat fragmentation, were completely extinct in the area for decades. Thanks to 20 years of restoration efforts, these birds were returned to Wilderness Preserve and are, once again, mating and thriving.
The Conservancy also partnered with Disney’s Animal Kingdom to research and provide a safe rookery for the wood stork, North America's only native storks. When these storks arrive in Kissimmee (usually in February or March), they always find everything they need, from the right levels of fresh water to the perfect trees for nesting, and plenty of food for foraging. During their stay — which lasts about four months — the storks are closely monitored and studied, allowing scientists to learn more about their habits and what they need to continue to thrive.
A SeaWorld of Wonder
Best known for its thrill rides and marine life, SeaWorld® Parks & Resorts™ is also home to one of the most extensive animal rescue programs in the United States. In fact, over 35,000 animals have been rescued and rehabilitated by the team at SeaWorld over the years, including more than 2,000 reptiles, 8,000 pinnipeds, and 22,000 birds. It's safe to say there's more to this theme park than what goes on under the sea!
The animal rescue and veterinary experts at SeaWorld work to rehabilitate injured and orphaned animals in their care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This can result in some really interesting situations, from creating custom prosthetics to repairing cracked shells. Sometimes, the center even nurses orphaned baby animals! All of this work is ultimately done to release these animals back into the wild when they're ready and able to survive.
Of course, not all the animals rescued by the team at SeaWorld are able to make it on their own. On these rare occasions, these animals are provided with long-term care, ensuring they have the best lives possible — either at SeaWorld or with another accredited facility.
SeaWorld is also committed to protecting the environment through conservation efforts. Over the years, its non-profit organization gave over $14 million to environmental projects on all seven continents. Coral reef restoration, coastal erosion prevention, habitat and animal protection — they do it all! The best part? A portion of every ticket sold goes toward these important efforts. A day of fun that also helps the planet, what could be better?
Keeping Florida Wild
Since 2010, Wild Florida Airboats & Gator Park has been delighting visitors with airboat tours through Lake Cypress in the headwaters of the Florida Everglades. But did you know for every 200 airboat rides offered, Wild Florida donates one cypress tree for restoration as part of their Trees for Tours program? They also partner with Florida Fish and Wildlife to maintain the sustainability of Florida’s waters and support a variety of community programs focused on environmental protection, education, and restoration.
Beyond the environment, Wild Florida is also committed to protecting the animals that call the Sunshine State home. Joining with the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge, Wild Florida donates a portion of its proceeds to help these endangered big cats thrive once again.
It’s great to know so many awesome attractions are working hard to protect and preserve Central Florida’s natural beauty, as well as wildlife around the world! To learn more about the area’s eco-friendly attractions, as well as all things Kissimmee, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.