You may go to Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom park for the headliner attractions like Flight of Passage and Expedition Everest. But chances are if you are visiting this theme park you have at least a passing interest in animals. If you have an animal lover in your group, then there’s one particular area that you won’t want to miss: Conservation Station.
As you might guess from the theme park’s name, animals are everywhere. This is the biggest Disney park in the world, and there are three separate wildlife trails – Maharajah Jungle Trek, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, and Discovery Island Trails – to explore and discover wildlife from all over the world in very natural, “cageless” environments. And there’s the fantastic Kilimanjaro Safari, where you drive through an African wildlife reservation, seeing different animals on each and every trip. But there’s another place inside the park to encounter wildlife, one that often gets overlooked: Conservation Station, Animal Kingdom’s wildlife conservation center which is also home to animal encounters, interactive exhibits, and a real-life veterinary facility.
The reason this area is often skipped is that it is physically separate from the rest of the park and difficult to reach. To get there you must travel via the Wildlife Express Train from Harambe, Africa to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The only way in and out is by train, and while there’s not usually a line, you may have to wait up to 15-20 minutes for the next train. In all the years I’ve been going, I have always gotten a seat on the next train, but I would definitely budget in almost an hour for round trip travel. The ride itself is about seven minutes long and covers 1.2 miles.
On the way, you will see backstage areas such as the housing and veterinary areas for rhinos, elephants, and other animals.
Tip: The return journey back from conservation station is not the same as the outbound journey, so capture those backstage shots while you can.
Once you arrive, you follow a shaded jungle-like path past a few bird displays and a Wilderness Explorer station. Then you arrive at the colorful Conservation Station building.
Inside there are more than 10 care areas and “experiences” including: animal encounters stage; Song of the Rainforest (a 3D audio adventure); amphibian, reptile and invertebrate windows; animal cams; a nutrition center where you can watch handlers prepare meals for the animals; a science center where you can watch working scientists; and an area devoted to worldwide conservation efforts.
Tip: There’s a beautiful mural in the entrance area of the building that features a hidden Mickey. Hint: it might be near the ostrich.
But the area that my aspiring veterinarian was immediately drawn to was the windows where you can observe the veterinary treatment room. Most weekday mornings you can watch animals getting routine and emergency care.
The morning we were there, we saw surgery being performed on an ostrich from Animal Kingdom Lodge. His foot had gotten injured and needed surgical repair. It was pretty complicated stuff, involving a bone graft supervised by a visiting veterinary orthopedic surgeon from University of Florida.
Tip: There’s something to see most weekday mornings at the Veterinary Treatment Room
While there’s something going on almost every weekday morning at the Veterinary Treatment Room, the schedule is not announced much ahead of time. The day’s schedule is posted on a screen outside the treatment room. We were told that Animal Kingdom’s Guest Relations gets the information a day or two beforehand, but routine exams can be superseded by emergencies. So you won’t know if it’s a small bird getting worked on or something more exciting like a tiger.
My daughter was glued to the window watching the ostrich surgery for almost two hours. Only the threat of missing our long-awaited Flight of Passage Fastpass+ could draw her away. I might point out that this is the real deal – there are even giant monitors showing the close-up camera view. It’s not for the squeamish.
There was even a veterinarian on hand standing in front of the window explaining everything that was going on. He also shared insights on how animal wellness exams are completed, and told of how many species are specifically trained to be examined so they don’t have to be anesthetized beforehand.
Tip: Disney characters such as Rafiki and Doc McStuffins often appear inside Conservation Station with little to no line. Chip and Dale can sometimes be found outside.
Scattered around the building are cast members manning small carts. They will often have a live specimen, such as a snake, or perhaps a skeleton or animal scat.
Although it’s not officially part of the Station, there’s a petting zoo, the Affection Section, just outside the doors that little ones will love.
While it’s a little off the beaten path, the Conservation Station is well worth a visit. The emphasis here is on “edutainment,” and it reminds me a little bit of the good old days at the Innoventions Pavilions at Epcot. As with any attraction, there are portions that could use a refresh, but I really hope that Disney keeps the concept. Even on vacation, we can all stand to learn something new.
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