Earlier this year at the D23 Expo, Disney Parks confirmed what had long been suspected, that the Dinoland U.S.A. area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom was in line for a significant retheming. While nothing specific was announced, though a couple of different possibilities were shown off, we know that Walt Disney Imagineering is hard at work on whatever the future holds for that area of the resort. But Imagineering isn’t the only division in action when new attractions are being planned at Animal Kingdom, as the team tasked with caring for the animals is also intimately involved in the process.
I recently spoke with Dr. Scott Terrell (opens in new tab), Director of Animal and Science Operations for The Walt Disney Company. We talked about the complexities that came with caring for the park’s numerous animal species in a park that also had roller coasters and other loud attractions that could potentially bother the animals. I asked how those ideas were manifesting as part of the plans for the changes coming to Dinoland U.S.A., and while Terrell was careful not to talk specifics, he did explain that his team has been involved in the planning from the beginning. He said…
I will very much avoid that topic, but anything that happens in this park, and [The Dinoland Plans] would be no exception, my animal and science team is involved from day one, with the Imagineers, with the entertainment team… We’re just automatically at the table. It’s not like I have to even ask, my partners reach out to me and say ‘Hey, we’re starting something new, can somebody from your team be there?’
Terrell said there is very much an “animals first” mentality when it comes to designing anything new at Walt Disney World, as his team is responsible for animals company wide, not simply those at DAK. By making sure that somebody from the animal and science team is involved from the beginning, it prevents the need to have to make any significant changes to plans for attractions or other entertainment by realizing too late that whatever is being designed might cause a problem for animals.
One can imagine that if an attraction caused too much noise near a sensitive animal, it might throw things off, causing the animal’s health to decline. The last time Disney’s Animal Kingdom saw a major update, with the creation of Pandora - The World of Avatar, animals were temporarily relocated, not due to the attractions, but due to the vibrations caused by the construction. Terrell explained…
I actually have scientists on my team that study sound levels and light levels and even, when we were building Pandora The World of Avatar, we studied seismic activity during the construction and actually moved animals away from the construction for certain periods of time to make sure they were able to thrive through that period.
At this point not only do we not know what the future holds for Dinoland, we don't know when work on it will even begin. One Dinoland attraction is already gone, but there's no timetable for when the rest of the work might begin, nevermind be completed.
Disney Parks' D23 Expo panel included an unusual "Blue Sky" discussion, where we saw that Walt Disney Imagineering was considering multiple concepts, including a Zootopia themed land, likely similar to the one currently going into Shanghai Disneyland, or possibly one geared toward Moana. Although Moana is already the subject of a currently under construction Epcot attraction.
One can certainly imagine construction in the Dinoland area causing similar problems for animals as what they experienced during Pandora's build out, so when that work begins, we might see more of Animal Kingdom disrupted. But if that happens, it’s being done for the health of the animals.