Celebrating With Disney

Each May we attend the International Migratory Bird Day celebrations at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  It’s a great opportunity to thank our friends there for all they have done for this project. Disney staff help monitor birds over the winter at St Marks NWR and they provided veterinary services each season when the birds arrive and are banded. They have also constructed pens and deployed experts to assist at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Disney’s World Wide Conservation Fund has supported many aspect of this project including an annual grant to OM that is allocated primarily to Outreach.

Unfortunately, Walt Disney died before Disney World opened in 1971. I imagine that if he were somehow able to walk through it today, he would be as impressed as we are with what has evolved.  The design, the architecture and the quality of everything he envisioned sets a standard no one has yet matched or even approximated. Those high standards are maintained by the people who work at Disney and we are honored to call a few of them friends.

Walter Sturgeon, Liz Condie and I joined Scott Tidmus, Zoological Manager and Alex McMichael, Operations Manager for Trail Operations at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. We set up under the wings of our aircraft which is on permanent display in the Conservation Station. We spoke to guests from all over the country about the Whooping crane project and Disney’s involvement and we handed out 750 activity books to kids.


The Disney experience is different for everyone but I feel particularly rewarded to see a little of what goes on behind the scenes. It is an incredibly smooth operation with contingency plans for everything. It is run by talented people with passion for what they do and I have become one of their biggest fans.

After we complete our migration there are not enough team members going in the right directions to get all of the trucks and trailer back to where they need to be. So, after visiting with Disney and enjoying some warm Florida weather, we pick up the tracking van and one of our travel-pen trailers that were stored for the winter at St Marks.

Our tracking van is a 2004 GMC Safari.  It is the only vehicle on the market that is enclosed and can accommodate five foot tall bird crates through the double back doors. Actually a full size van would work however they do not come in four-wheel-drive, at least at a price we can afford.  Unfortunately General Motors stopped making Safari vans in 2005, so we had to find a used one.

It seems the previous owners did not bother to tune up their van and as we headed north through Virginia, that failure became evident. On its last gasp of breath, it crept into a GMC dealership in Euphoria, Virginia an hour from closing time. It took the next day to do a major tune up and to change a faulty fuel pump. After paying the $1400.00 cost of poor maintenance, we headed north again.

20140508_074030Because our van was purchased and registered in the US, we, as Canadians, cannot drive it into Canada. It will sit in storage again until it is time to head to Wisconsin for the summer training. The Devil is in the details.

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  1. cgull May 16, 2014 5:15 pm

    Many thanks to the “MOUSE” for hosting such a great event. The reach of Disney is amazing and hopefully will pay off for OM, the whooping cranes and all wildlife. Thanks so much for being such a preeminent ambassador for all of the above.

  2. Patricia Ewing May 15, 2014 8:48 am

    I am one of the donators to OM and will continue to do so. After reading about the van troubles I wonder if a fund could be established towards a new 4 wheel van that could be outfitted as a new tracking van? I would be glad to donate towards that goal.
    Just a thought…