Disney has a reputation as being “the Happiest Place on Earth” – but Disney is also a forerunner in conserving the world’s wildlife and getting our future generations out to enjoy it. The Disney Conservation Fund recently held a press conference to celebrate 20 years of existence and to introduce a new initiative called “Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time,” just in time for celebrating Earth Day. Powerfully prominent partners in the initiative include: The Jane Goodall Institute, The International Crane Foundation, and The Wildlife Conservation Society, to name a few headliners. In their moving and practical plan, The Disney Conservation Fund will lead the way as they try to spread some conservation magic across the world before it’s too late.

Disney Conservation Fund

Photo Credit: Amanda Williams / Rural Travelingmom

Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time

The Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) was created in 1995 to dedicate funding, time, and man power to conservation and environmental stewardship. In the two decades since its creation, DCF has awarded grants to 300 non-profit organizations for their efforts in conservation around the world. Disney officials shared just before Earth Day 2016 that the newest chapter in the DCF legacy will focus on getting kids outdoors, as well as the preservation of wild animals that are on the brink of extinction. Let’s face it: it IS a small world that we live in, and we all need to pitch in to save it!

The DCF will be focusing on twelve threatened populations and species for the initiative, partnering with the stakeholders that are passionate and proactive in protecting and preserving the planets wild resources.

Since the initiative is twofold, the second part of this is to inspire kids to care. In order to do this, we need to increase the time kids spend in nature. Just as Doctor Jane Goodall grew up with pockets full of earthworms and spending nearly all of her waking moments in the great outdoors, we must encourage our kids to unplug, put away screens, and simply get outside.

Jane Goodall on Chimps and Change

After hearing Dr. Goodall speak at the press event, the Tree of Life came to life for me. I made it my mission to find and photograph David Greybeard, the chimp of Gombe who started it all. You see, Dr. Goodall was at Animal Kingdom ten years ago in 2006, to commemorate ten years of conservation and to be recognized as one of five exemplary conservationists by DCF, when she visited the Tree of Life. As she recalled for the audience at the event, she noted at the time that it was a beautiful tree but “there was no chimp!”

Disney Conservation Fund Jane Goodall David Greybeard

Photo Credit: Amanda Williams / Rural TravelingMom

Not only did she get her chimp –literally, a chimp was carved and created in the likeness of her most beloved animal ambassador from her allies in Africa –  but his head is an enormous carving at the entrance of “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” that must be around five feet tall and three or four wide. There’s no missing that one!

As I watched a preview of the Tree of Life coming to life with the inky night sky behind it, colors and images dancing across the many carved creatures the branches conceal, I felt a deeper connection to the tree. And in such, a deeper connection to nature, right there in the middle of a theme park of all places! This wasn’t just a tree created as a monolith in the middle of a theme park to become the backdrop of PhotoPass customers frequenting the park (which was why I’d never given it much more than a passing glance in prior visits). This was part of the legacy that we all have stake in. A reminder to those lucky enough to have been touched by the wild creatures on Earth to do more to keep them around for our future generations. As undulating lights and moving music set an invigorating energy across the land, so too were my own personal conservation chords set in motion. I think everyone was thinking the same thing — introducing after dark activities in Animal Kingdom would be more than just a ploy to get folks to stick around in the park. The Tree of Life having a nocturnal side, as well as Rivers of Light, another inspiring show after dark coming to Animal Kingdom in 2016, were deeper than that. Little did I know as I watched the lights and felt the connection, this was exactly the intended response that was planned by Imagineer, Joe Rohde when the concept of the Animal Kingdom theme park was born. Spot on, Disney! You’ve nailed it with this one!

Dr. Goodall was all too accurate with her reworking of a quote conservationists are fond of reciting:

“We’ve not borrowed this world from our children. We’ve stolen it.”

How true that is. This moment in her short talk was profound for all in attendance. There was a moment of utter silence, when this hard-hitting truth must have resonated with everyone in the crowd. We must find something tangible for kids and adults alike to hang on to as they travel together. Something that comes home with them and stays in their souls, long after pictures have faded and trinkets have been misplaced and forgotten. Something that inspires change. The attitude of indifference and being too small to promote real change must end.

This is where Disney can change the future of conservation: they not only provide financial fortitude for projects, they can inspire kids from a young age (and re-inspire those taller, slightly older kids like me) to be conservation champions, making a difference in the world just as does Jane Goodall!

Disney Conservation Fund Jane Goodall on conservation

Photo Credit: Mary Moore / Retro Travelingmom

How We Can All Help

Disney Conservation Fund is not the only player in this circle of life. Dr. Goodall advised that we all matter and we are all stakeholders.

Dr. Goodall recommended small changes, things like omitting meat one day a week from your diet and turning off the water or lights, recycling. These small changes are what needs to happen in everyone’s life. It’s not too late. But it is a dire, imminent problem that must be addressed immediately for it to be reversed.

“Is it too late? Were [they] right when they said there is nothing we can do? I don’t believe so.” Jane Goodall was hopeful as she spoke these words to the crowd.

“Every single one of us matters and has a role to play. Every single day we make a difference.” This was given in an emphatic statement. There was no question whether or not she was placating optimists or if she truly believed we still have a chance.

Go outside. If it’s raining grab your umbrella and let those kids jump in puddles. Find frogs. Gaze in awe upon newly hatched goslings. Plant some pollinator-friendly flowers. Pick up trash. Go outside and do your small part. If you absolutely must be inside, I recommend popping in a Disneynature movie — like Bears or Monkey Kingdom. They will inspire you to go BACK outside! When you next make your travel plans, make sure to take in the natural elements of your surroundings while on holiday. Even if you’re in a theme park such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom – if you are open to finding the connections to nature, you’ll find they are everywhere!

Walt Disney’s Conservation Legacy

Sometimes we just need a seed of knowledge to make great things happen. We only need a tiny spark to ignite not only our imaginations but also our drive to make change happen. With that in mind, in parting, here are Walt’s own words regarding the environment and our legacy:

“You’ve probably heard people talk about conservation. Well, conservation isn’t just the business of a few people. It’s a matter that concerns all of us. It’s a science whose principles are written in the oldest code in the world, the laws of nature. The natural resources of our vast continent are not inexhaustible. But if we will use our riches wisely, if we will protect our wildlife and preserve our lakes and streams, these things will last us for generations to come.” – Walt Disney, 1950

How do you do your small part? Are your kids interested in ecotourism and environmental stewardship? How do these concepts affect the way you travel?