Disney’s Animal Kingdom Turns 10 Animal Kingdom

All Ears® Team Coverage

Feature Article on the Official Celebration – Debra Martin Koma

A Wild Decade Celebration – Deb Wills

Joe Rohde Meets Guests at Animal Kingdom's 10th Anniversary – LindaMac

Walt Disney World Official Information
Celebrating a Decade of Animal Magic — Disney's Animal Programs Top 10 Accomplishments

Blue line

Disney's Animal Kingdom Turns 10

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

Animal Kingdom Entrance

I'm just back from the World with a brief report on the festivities surrounding Disney's Animal Kingdom's 10th Anniversary on April 22, 2008.

As you may already know, Disney doesn't usually make a very big deal out of its individual theme park anniversaries, except for the Magic Kingdom's, which is considered to be the birthday of the entire Walt Disney World Resort. This year, to mark the 10th anniversary of Disney's Animal Kingdom, however, a few special events recognized the landmark date.

Guests were allowed past the turnstiles a few minutes before the official 9 a.m. park opening and the crowds, along with local news media, hustled along to gather in front of the Tree of Life.

Festival of the Lion King Performer
Yeti Figure

Soon, to music from The Lion King, a procession of Disney cast members appeared, waving banners that featured the names of each of the areas of Animal Kingdom — Discovery Island, Asia, Africa, etc. Interspersed was an array of creatures and characters — Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Nemo, stilt walkers from the Festival of the Lion King show, even a snowy white Yeti. Along with the cast members were young adults from six continents who were attending renowned primatologist Jane Goodall's Global Youth Summit, an organization that fosters humanitarian and environmental work that can be done by young people.

A moving dais set up on a truck drove up with the featured speakers of the commemorative ceremony: Erin Wallace, executive vice president of operations for Disney, Dr. Jane Goodall, and Joe Rohde, senior vice president and executive designer of Walt Disney Imagineering.

After introductory remarks, during which she announced the new name of the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (changed from Disney's Wildlife Conservation Fund), Wallace turned the microphone over to Goodall, who was also present at Animal Kingdom on its opening day 10 years ago.

Jane GoodallGoodall proclaimed that she was both "proud and grateful" to be at the ceremony, remarking that if she were an animal outside her natural habitat, that "this is where I'd want to be." Goodall, who was there for the aforementioned weeklong Global Youth Summit (being held at Coronado Springs Resort) concluded her remarks with a chimpanzee vocalization, loosely translated by her to mean, "Thank you."

Goodall then turned the spotlight on Joe Rohde, the man whose vision shaped the theme park that has become Animal Kingdom. In his brief remarks, Rohde talked about his perception that Animal Kingdom is an ongoing story, and how he viewed Animal Kingdom cast members, including himself, as the storytellers. He concluded by saying that he hoped the joy and inspiration they tried to bring to guests through Animal Kingdom was then taken out into the world.

As the crowds dispersed, I made a beeline for the Theater in the Wild, as Joe Rohde was set to make a much longer speech to honor the park's anniversary there at 9:45 a.m.

Although there were quite a few people waiting to get into the theater, it was by no means at capacity — it's really a shame that Rohde's presentation wasn't better advertised. (Details of it had been announced on the annual passholder website, but there was no whisper of it on the park's Times Guide — I think there may have been sandwich boards mentioning it near the entrance of the park.)

Erin Wallace and Jane Goodall
Joe Rohde

Joe RohdeThe presentation kicked off with Val Bunting, current vice president of Animal Kingdom who was also an opening team member with the park 10 years ago. She introduced Rohde to enthusiastic applause.

Rohde, speaking to a mixed audience of both cast members and guests, shared many personal anecdotes about the road he followed in the making Animal Kingdom what it eventually came to be.

Not one to bore his audience with mundane details, Rohde showed a few choice slides, including some of the note cards that were made 15-20 years ago during Animal Kingdom brainstorming sessions. Most interesting were the artist renderings of the Animal Kingdom that never was — ideas that were tossed out as their impracticality or infeasibility were determined. You know, the Noah's Ark entrance, the grotto that would require all of the concrete in the state of Florida, the garden that would have had animals facing away from the guests so that all they would see would be animal butts.

Rohde spoke for nearly an hour, and in spite of the very hard and uncomfortable wooden slat benches, no one in the audience seemed willing to leave when he finished. In fact, he was given a rousing standing ovation.


Even though this was the end of Disney's official anniversary events, another group of Disney fans, known as WDWCelebrations.com, had organized a number of group meets throughout the day to mark what they called "A Wild Decade." More than 200 met to attend a presentation of Finding Nemo The Musical, and to ride Expedition Everest, and share a meal at the Flame Tree Barbecue. In addition, a "History Walk," outlining the timeline and evolution of the Animal Kingdom theme park was led by several of the meet organizers. At the end of the day, the Wild Decade organizers, led by 17-year-old Adam Roth, presented a $500 check to author Lou Mongello (The Walt Disney World Trivia Book) to go to the Dream Team charity he has established, which benefits terminally ill children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.