Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World is celebrating the arrival of not one, but two adorable baby animals in July 2021. A Nile hippopotamus calf and a western lowland gorilla were born just one day apart, joining several other recent animal arrivals to the park and giving wildlife-loving guests a whole lot to “ooh” and “ahh” about.
Gorilla mom Azizi gave birth backstage, later introducing the little bundle of joy to the rest of the family, including father Gino and the infant’s big brother Cory. Guests visiting Animal Kingdom’s Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail have been getting sweet peeks at the wee little babe snuggled up with Azizi.
Meanwhile, a little hippopotamus calf made its grand entrance a day earlier. Scott Terrell, director of animal and science operations for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, announced in a Disney Parks Blog post that the calf made a “splashy debut” in the Safi River area of Kilimanjaro Safaris, Animal Kingdom’s marquee wildlife attraction that takes guests on a guided tour of the savanna where live animals roam freely.
The calf joins parents Tuma and Henry, along with seven other members of the hippo family, fittingly called a “bloat.” The tiny-by-comparison calf has been bonding with mother Tuma and navigating the waters like a natural, Terrell said.
Each birth marks yet another success for the Species Survival Plan Program, overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. At Disney’s animal park, SSP programs were also responsible for the recent additions of newborn giraffes, zebras, and an endangered white rhino.
“The plan ensures responsible breeding of vulnerable or critically endangered species — including Nile hippopotamuses and western lowland gorillas — to help create healthy, genetically diverse populations for years to come,” Terrell said.
Terrell also noted that the animal care team is giving both babies and their mothers plenty of time to nurse and bond, but promised to share the sex and weight of the newborns soon.
Behind The Scenes At Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Although Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to incredible animals and some of Walt Disney World’s best attractions, it’s far more than just a zoo with rides. The theme park integrates live animals throughout the park experience in habitats that approximate nature closely.
“The presence of animals defines the entirety of the experience of Animal Kingdom,” Joe Rohde, former portfolio creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering and the park’s lead designer, said in a virtual press conference for “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” a National Geographic docu-series that takes viewers behind the scenes to showcase the animal care and conservation in action at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot. “It doesn’t even stop at the areas where you see animals.”
The show gives audiences a look at what happens backstage, including some of the newborn behaviors that take place before the animals make their way out onto the savanna for the first time.
“Rhino calves and giraffe spend time bonding in backstage environments as they grow and keepers teach important training behaviors,” Terrell explained in a blog post. “Other animals, like gorillas or mandrills, may make their onstage debut within a few hours of birth, with baby clinging right onto mom’s chest.”
Coming Soon To Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Ahead of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration, kicking off Oct. 1, 2021, Disney has announced some new updates coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
A new daytime show, “Disney KiteTails,” will debut on Oct. 1, 2021. The show, which will run several times daily at the Discovery River Amphitheater, will feature performers flying wind catchers and kites depicting Disney animals like Simba, Zazu, Baloo and King Louie. Each night, the park’s towering icon, the Tree of Life, will be transformed into a “Beacon of Magic,” lit up with sparkling projections and lighting effects.
Meanwhile, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, a nearby Walt Disney World resort, is reopening on Aug. 26. Here, you can see wildlife like giraffes, zebras and ostriches roaming the savanna — right from your guest room balcony.
Have you been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Let us know your favorite animals to spot there!
Brooke Geiger McDonald is a theme park journalist covering all things Disney and Universal. When she’s not screaming on the newest roller coaster or critiquing the cheese served with her Mickey pretzel, she’s busy breaking the latest theme park news on Twitter and Instagram.