Meet The Cast Members Behind Disney’s Conservation Fund

Kidani Villas
Photo Credit: Disney

Many Disney Guests or Disney Fanatics might not know that Disney World has devoted decades and millions of dollars to conservation efforts, but if you didn’t know, you do now–because the Disney Conservation Fund has just awarded grants and funds to 60 more nonprofit organizations! The Disney Parks Blog also used the aforementioned announcement to shed a light on the Cast Members behind the scenes that are instrumental in Disney’s commitment to awarding grants, helping threatened species recover from human-inflicted damage or return from near-extinction, educating the public about wildlife conservation and habitat restoration, and helping move natural solutions forward to minimize climate change’s effects on critical ecosystems. Let’s meet some of those special Cast Members, and learn why they chose the grant recipients that they did!

Eduardo Valdez

Eduardo Valdez is the Operation Manager of Disney’s Animal Nutrition Center for Central and South America. Like the other Cast Members in the article, he is a Committee Member that helps the DCF pick which nonprofits to support. Valdez told the Disney Parks Blog that “the variety of conservation issues and conservation needs are immense and increasing every year in the Central and South America region and in the world. The DCF has been a powerful catalyst to improve wildlife conservation in the region – many of the projects we supported have seen huge, positive results for conservation. I am happy to see funds support Re:wild, Jambatu and Centro de Conservación de Anfibios Amaru’s “Empowered Communities Saving Harlequin Toads” project this year because the community involvement is critical for the success of this project and will benefit the toads, habitats and people. As Walt Disney said, ‘Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people. It is a matter that concerns all of us.’”

Karen Pellot

You don’t have to get a science degree to help wildlife or be part of the Disney Conservation Fund, and Karen Pellot the Guest Experience Manager for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Merchandise, is proof of that! Karen says that she is most “motivated by the many passionate and dedicated cast in my area…they make every engagement memorable and inspire our Guests to help make a difference. I find it fun taking the cast on different experiences, whether volunteering, helping with purple martin songbird monitoring, beach clean-ups or a conversation with an Animal Keeper. Exposing cast to ways they can impact the future of conservation inspires them and helps them become great advocates for the DCF program. This is the legacy that I want to leave behind; Cast Members that inspire others to make a difference”.

Mary Lueder

Mary Lueder is one of Disney’s Animal Keeper in Walt Disney World, and she is on the Europe, Middle East, and Australia Committees for DCF. Mary explained that “Conservation has been important to me for a long time. I love supporting promising projects, and seeing the review process has been a great learning experience. I’m most excited about the “Rewilding Australia’s Red Centre” project this year. Many species in Australia are endangered and facing challenges, and Australian Wildlife Conservancy is creating a massive, predator-free habitat where threatened native wildlife can be safely re-introduced. They’re addressing conservation issues on a huge scale, and I can’t wait to see the results”.

Sierra Pelizza

Next up is Sierra Pelizza, one of Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Education Guides! Sierra said that she loves “leading programs that support and raise awareness about the Disney Conservation Fund because I get to be the source of inspiration for animal conservation. I sometimes get to be there the first time guests see an African Elephant or White Rhino in person, and I get to be their first conservation connection. I love getting to share my passion for these animals with Guests and knowing it results in support for amazing projects like Save the Elephants’ work in Kenya to prevent elephant-human conflict by using honey bees as a natural deterrent to crop-raiding elephants”!

Dawn Keeney

For Dawn Keeney a longtime Merchandise Hostess in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, this mission is personal. As she put it, “What drives me is keeping Walt’s and my father’s legacies alive. My father instilled in me a love of nature, and Walt was always my hero. And, of course, the animals and the planet. By educating people about the importance of nature, we all can come together and make a difference. Every person who visits us at Disney’s Animal Kingdom walks away knowing a little more about what we do for wildlife”.

Chef Gary Jones

This might be an unexpected person on the list, but did you know that chefs are actually an important part of conservation? Chef Gary Jones, a Culinary Environmental Specialist for Disney and a Marine Committee Member for DCF, believes that “there is a connection between the great work of the DCF, project grantees and our operations teams’ goal to serve 100 percent environmentally responsibly sourced seafood at our domestic sites by 2022. Chefs play an important role in providing magical and surprise-and-delight moments with sustainable seafood. The Disney Conservation Fund supports projects that help keep our ocean ecosystems in balance so wild caught seafood can be prepared by our chefs and enjoyed by present and future Guests. This year I am most excited about a project from China Blue Sustainability Institute to protect the Chinese white dolphin. With two of our theme parks in China, it’s important to support projects that increase public access to conservation knowledge. The Disney chefs in China also are focused on supporting vibrant ecosystems that can provide great seafood to their Guests”. We’ll be pleased to see how these international efforts pay off for marine life!

Bethany Dauner

Last but not least is Bethany Dauner, an Education Manager for Disney and a North America Committee Member for DCF. “I love seeing projects that support pollinator conservation, like this year’s community science monarch conservation program led by National Wildlife Federation, especially when they involve getting children and students excited about the impact they can have right in their own back yards!” Bethany said. “The little things that run the world need support and care, and we can have a direct impact on this conservation issue right at home”.

Did you know already about Disney’s conservation efforts? Have you seen any of their Cast Members and witnessed their expertise in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or heard of the grant recipients before that are helping critically endangered species?

About Sharon

Sharon is a writer and animal lover from New England. Sharon's two main focuses in her work are Disney's correlations with pop culture and the significance of Disney princesses (which was the basis for her college thesis). When she's not writing about Disney, Sharon spends her time singing, dancing, and cavorting with woodland creatures!

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