Disney’s Animal Kingdom Greets First Guests Wednesday at Walt Disney World Resort

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    Wednesday April 22, 1:15 pm Eastern Time Company Press Release SOURCE: Walt Disney World Media Relations

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., April 22 /PRNewswire/ — Visitors from around the world flocked to Walt Disney World Resort Wednesday for the grand opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom, where the park's first guests were greeted with rose petal confetti, African bands and a keepsake grand-opening lithograph.

    “We could think of no more appropriate day to introduce Disney's Animal Kingdom to the world than today, April 22, which, as you know, is Earth Day,'' said Judson Green, president of Walt Disney Attractions, addressing a group of honored guests at the park's Conservation Station. “Twenty-eight years ago, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson introduced the idea of a national celebration of nature and the environment…It is our fervent hope that Disney's Animal Kingdom will be a living embodiment of that same spirit.''

    The first guests through the gate were Brenda Herr of St. Petersburg, Fla., her husband, Damon Chepren and their son, Devon, who slept in their car the night before in their quest to become the first guest family. The family received a lifetime pass to Walt Disney theme parks worldwide.

    Park officials also paid tribute to their “Honorary First Family,'' rhino crusader Michael Werikhe and his daughters, Acacia, 9, and Kora, 7, in a ceremony at the park's Conservation Station. Werikhe, known throughout the world as “Rhino Man,'' has led a one-man crusade to boost public awareness of the plight of the black rhinoceros. He has walked thousands of miles across four continents to raise millions of dollars for the conservation and survival of the endangered black rhino.

    Roy Disney, vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company [NYSE:DIS – news], presented Werikhe and his family with a giant “Key of Life,'' in the shape of The Tree of Life, the park's massive icon. In addition, Walt Disney World is making a contribution in support of Werikhe's conservation work. Over the past three years, Disney Wildlife Conservation fund has contributed more than $3 million to conservation efforts worldwide.

    “Werikhe is one of the great eco-heroes of our time, thanks to his tireless efforts to walk the globe on behalf of the black rhino,'' Disney said. “With our Honorary First Family on hand, we invite all who cherish the striking beauty of animals and nature to venture out and witness the wonders that are here.''

    Werikhe is one of four eco-heroes who share their stories through interactive displays with guests at Conservation Station. He said it was Walt Disney who first inspired him through early films about nature and conservation.

    “This is like a dream come true — it's like being on the top of Mount Everest,'' Werikhe said.

    Disney's Animal Kingdom is the fourth Walt Disney World theme park. With 500 acres, a realistic African safari, thrill attractions and live entertainment, the Park celebrates the whole realm of animals — real, extinct and imaginary. It's the first new Walt Disney World theme park to open since Disney-MGM Studios in 1989. The Magic Kingdom opened with Walt Disney World Resort in 1971 and Epcot followed in 1982.

    SOURCE: Walt Disney World Media Relations