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A Timeline of the First 25 Thrilling Years at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park

Disney's Animal Kingdom first opened to the public on April 22, 1998, and to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of this truly beautiful park we have taken a look back at the highlight events in a remarkable first 25 years at WaltDisney World.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney began planning for a fourth theme park at Walt Disney WORLD shortly after the opening of the resorts third park, Disney MGM Studios in 1989.

The concept of Animal Kingdom was the brainchild of legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde

The concept of Animal Kingdom was the brainchild of legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde.

When Rohde presented the idea of a new animal themed park, he brought a 400-pound Bengal tiger into the meeting with Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who was obviously so impressed, he approved the concept!

 Disney's Wild Animal Kingdom

Originally slated as Disney's "Wild Animal Kingdom," Disney announced plans for the construction of the park in 1995 at an estimated cost of $600-$800 million...

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park Original Concept Art

June 20, 1995

Plans for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park are announced. The new park will feature a combination of thrilling rides, exotic landscapes and close encounters with wild animals and promises an entirely new kind of guest experience.

Groundbreaking takes place for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

August 4, 1995

Groundbreaking takes place for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

April 26, 1997

Two two-year-old reticulated giraffes, Miles and Zari, are the first animals to arrive at the park.

October 5, 1997 A baby kudu is the first animal born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

October 5, 1997

A baby kudu is the first animal born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Roy E. Disney joins Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner at the park’s dedication ceremony, which features a musical salute to animals

April 21, 1998

Roy E. Disney joins Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner at the park’s dedication ceremony, which features a musical salute to animals.

first ads for animal kingdom

April 22, 1998

On Earth Day, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened its doors with a colorful ceremony celebrating animals real, ancient and imagined.

September 1998

The park receives accreditation from Association of Zoos and Aquariums (formerly American Zoo and Aquarium Association).

Maharajah Jungle Trek Disney's Animal Kingdom

March 1, 1999

Grand Opening of Asia, which includes Kali River Rapids and Maharajah Jungle Trek, takes place.

Dino-Sue DinoLand U.S.A. Animal kingdom

May 17, 2000

Dino-Sue, an exact replica of the largest and most complete and Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil found up to that time, goes on display in DinoLand U.S.A.

Rafiki’s Planet Watch Animal Kingdom

October 2000

Conservation Station becomes Rafiki’s Planet Watch and continues to share with guests an in-depth look at animal habitats around the globe and the expert veterinary care animals receive at the park.

April 7, 2006

Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain opens, thrilling guests with a high-speed journey through the Himalayan Mountains while avoiding the clutches of the mythic Yeti.

April 22, 2007

Inaugural “Party for the Planet,” the park’s annual Earth Day celebration, takes place.

June 1, 2013

Wilderness Explorers program debuts, letting guests follow in the footsteps of Russell from the Disney Pixar film “Up” to earn adventure badges around the park.

May 27, 2016

Tiffins Restaurant and Nomad Lounge open, offering immersive dining experiences inspired by the world travels of the park’s creators.

May 27, 2017

Pandora – The World of Avatar opens as the largest addition in the history of the park. This award-winning land, which features Pandora’s trademark floating mountains and glowing bioluminescence, lets guests step into the world of James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

April 22, 2018

The park’s 20th Anniversary is marked with “Party for the Planet” event on Earth Day.

November 18, 2019

New holiday offerings, including the whimsical Merry Menagerie artisan-made puppets on Discovery Island, debut.

July 11, 2020

Character flotillas arrive along Discovery River, giving guests an opportunity to view and interact with beloved characters.

September 25, 2020

“Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom” debuts on Disney+. The eight-part docuseries gives viewers an all-access backstage pass to meet the animal care experts who have formed bonds with the park’s thousands of animals.

October 26, 2020

Ranger is born, the first of three white rhino calves born at the park in a 13-month period.

September 15, 2021

Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment begins participation in American Institute of Rhinoceros Science multi-year research project designed to ensure that rhinos thrive in managed care.

June 10, 2022

The updated musical stage production “Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!” debuts.

January 1, 2023

Season 2 of “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom” debuts on National Geographic, followed by all episodes streaming on Disney+ Jan. 4.

April 22, 2023

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebrates 25 Years of Magic on Earth Day.

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