As Hurricane Ian passed through Central Florida and over The Walt Disney World Resort, Guests and Cast Members alike hunkered down in the Resort Hotels scattered throughout the property. But they were not the only Disney World Residents riding out the storm. Over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park sat the menagerie of beloved animals who also had to seek shelter from the storm.
The story of how the Cast of Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Maharajah’s Jungle Trek, and other magical animal experiences remained a bit of a mystery until only recently. Yesterday, Disney shared the Animal Kingdom’s hurricane survival story as part of the company’s latest “Impact Story” on its website.
According to Disney, 50 Cast Members from Disney’s Animals, Science, and Environment team stayed on property Wednesday and Thursday of last week to ensure that their “co-workers” were able to ride out the night. One of those Cast Members, animal care director and 17-year Disney veteran Katie Leighty, described the prep work for the different species as “similar to what you would do at home.” For the average [human] Floridian, this includes stocking up on essential food, water, and medicine, as well as proactively removing potential hazards like low-lying tree limbs.
One of the most important tasks Leighty and her team had to solve was to determine what place was best for each animal to ride out the storm. Turns out, some of those places were still outside.
“Some animals prefer to be outside where they can see their surroundings. Antelopes, for example, can spook easily in a storm,” Leighty said. “A lot of animals can just hunker down out on the savanna and do really well. We’ve studied their behavior over the years to know what’s best for them.”
Other animals remained inside on-site barns with the Cast Members. They human caretakers stayed overnight to watch over the animals, and manage the safety and security of over 12 different locations across the Parks.
“We set up cots and air mattresses. Everyone brought snacks. Everyone was just in great spirits the whole time. It’s definitely seeing your cast members in a different light,” Leighty said with a laugh. “One of the unique things that we always talk about at Disney Parks is how we all come together to get through challenges and take care of each other. Those moments when we come together are always special.”
All of the animals of Disney’s Animal Kingdom emerged from the storm safe and sound. Once again, the Disney World Cast Members display the real-world magic they are capable of during trying times.