In Kissimmee, we love nature, and honestly believe there’s no side like outside! While we’re all looking forward to exploring the natural beauty of Kissimmee again soon, we know it’s essential to protect the world around us — as well as the animals that live here too. That’s why we’re so proud of the conservation efforts happening here in Central Florida, even during this unprecedented time. Today, we’re shining the environmental spotlight (which uses an energy-efficient bulb, naturally) on some 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, Walt Disney World Resort is dedicated to providing the wildlife that lives at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with everything they need to thrive.
Beyond providing continuing care for the animals that call Disney’s Animal Kingdom home, the conservation team also works to bring species back from the brink of extinction. For example, 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 – 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 to curb anti-poaching efforts in countries like Kenya, while also providing critical data to help researchers plan for the long-term survival of the species.
Even today, Mother Nature remains hard at work. Two new baby animals were recently born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: a prehensile-tailed porcupine and a Hartmann’s zebra foal. Both of these animals were born as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which helps to ensure the health and safety of endangered animals.
Preserving a Precious Ecosystem
Disney’s commitment to conservation also stretches into the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve. This 11,500-acre reserve near Kissimmee 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
- Sandhill cranes
More than just a beautiful slice of nature, 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 partners with Disney’s Animal Kingdom to research and provide a safe rookery for the wood stork, the only stork species native to North America. When these storks arrive in Kissimmee (usually in February or March), they always find everything they need, including the right levels of freshwater, 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 flourish.
A SeaWorld of Wonder
SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando is home to one of the most extensive animal rescue programs in the United States. In fact, over 36,000 animals have been rescued and rehabilitated by the team at SeaWorld, including:
- 2,000 reptiles
- 8,000 pinnipeds
- 22,000 birds
The animal rescue and veterinary experts at SeaWorld Orlando work to rehabilitate injured and orphaned animals in their care around the clock. 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 Orlando are able to make it on their own. On these rare occasions, animals are provided with long-term care, ensuring they have the best lives possible — either at SeaWorld Orlando or with another accredited facility.
SeaWorld Orlando is also committed to protecting the environment through conservation efforts. Over the years, its non-profit organization has given over $14 million to environmental projects on all seven continents. Coral reef restoration, coastal erosion prevention, habitat and animal protection — they do it all!
Keeping Florida Wild
Since 2010, Wild Florida has been exploring Lake Cypress in the headwaters of the Florida Everglades. They’ve also been doing their part to protect this special slice of Central Florida through their Trees for Tours program and by partnering with Florida Fish and Wildlife to maintain the sustainability of Florida’s waters. This partnership allows them to support a variety of community programs focused on environmental protection, education, and restoration.
In addition, Wild Florida:
- Has joined with the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge, to donate a portion of its proceeds to help these endangered big cats.
- Works with the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica to boost their efforts protecting sloths in the wild, including caring for injured, abandoned, and orphaned sloths.
Protecting Sea Life
SEA LIFE Orlando is dedicated to exploring life under the water, while also ensuring it continues to prosper for generations to come. In 2013, they established the SEA LIFE Trust, a registered charity dedicated to maintaining underwater ecosystems that are healthy, protected, and full of diverse life. Through this fantastic charity, SEA LIFE:
- Operates two rescue and rehabilitation sanctuaries: the Beluga Whale Sanctuary off the southern coast of Iceland and the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in the United Kingdom.
- Supports projects to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans.
Here in Kissimmee, SEA LIFE is guided by a simple ethos: breed, rescue, protect. Through their ethical breeding programs, the SEA LIFE team is able to better understand inhabitants — from animals to coral. They also provide a home for hundreds of animals. Whenever possible, these animals are rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to the wild. In situations where a return to the wild is not possible, SEA LIFE protects and cares for these animals, providing a safe home for them to live out their days.
Above water, the SEA LIFE commitment to nature is just as strong. In fact, in December 2019, their team spent an afternoon planting 550 native grasses to help restore the Shingle Creek watershed. This watershed is vital for maintaining the health of local wildlife, as well as Florida’s Everglades!
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! And, when the time is right, we hope you’ll be looking forward to thanking them in person. Until then, you can stay up-to-date on all things Kissimmee on our Instagram and Facebook pages.