Many who have visited Disney parks have witnessed the warmth and beauty of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but few know just how much concern and care goes into handling the creatures there. NatGeo and Disney Plus have teamed up for a documentary called Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, with the first episode premiering on September 25, in order to give viewers an inside like at daily life there.
While Disney Imagineering must ensure the design and construction of the park is conducive to the animals’ lifestyle, and veterinarians are on hand to establish their well-being, the series takes audiences even beyond those aspects. Keepers and handlers spend one-on-one time with various characters, from Kenya the giraffe to Grace the baby gorilla, to make sure they feel loved and cared for.
Animal Keeper Courtney Cameron shared some of her insights with Screen Rant, from detailing what a daily routine might look like at the Animal Kingdom to confiding why she loves spending time with the gorillas.
What is the day-to-day life for you with the animals?
Courtney Cameron: Well, that’s a loaded question. My day with the animals is different every day. The simplest way I explain what I do is that my job is to make the animals have a great day every day. I want to make sure that every day is the best day for them, on a simple level.
On a bigger level, we’re here to provide excellent care and empower animals to participate in their own medical care and in their own care here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. So, we do lots of training, lots of enrichments, to provide them the opportunity to exhibit those natural behaviors: diet prep, and just sort of all-encompassing their whole life here.
Was there any moment that was particularly powerful or memorable to you, where an animal did teach you something you hadn’t known before about their care?
Courtney Cameron: Yeah, they teach me something new every day. That’s the beauty of working with animals, that just when you think you have it figured out, they teach us something new, which I think is really fun. It definitely keeps us on our toes.
Let me think, I don’t know that I have a specific memory in my mind. But I would say my best memories are those moments when an animal really gets what we’re asking them to do. And you really see that relationship that we work so hard to build with these animals come into play, and they’re able to participate in an awake echocardiogram and help us make sure that their hearts are healthy, and that kind of stuff. I think that’s the most impactful.
The Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom correctly focused on a lot of the really heartwarming and exciting moments that make you feel like the job is like worth it. But how do you do deal with the pressure of having to make sure the animals are doing well when their life is in your hands?
Courtney Cameron: Yeah, it’s definitely a lot of pressure. It’s an honor, and it’s humbling, if that makes sense. It’s a big responsibility that everyone here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom from the animal care staff to our veterinary staff, take very seriously.
A lot of us are really specific, because we’ve been working with these animals for a really long time, so we know them really well. And as an animal keeper, my job is: I’m the frontlines. I’m the first eyes on this animal; it’s my job to sort of report what’s going on. And if something even slightly is different, we usually all sit down and talk about it just because these little changes can mean other things. And we do take that responsibility very, very seriously.
Was there any way that your day-to-day life was affected by the documentary filmmaking taking place?
Courtney Cameron: Yes, we had to work pretty hard with the National Geographic crews to kind of get creative and figure out how can we get this footage in a way that is comfortable for the animals and in a way that provides us with that really excellent view of what these animals’ lives are like. So, we definitely got really creative that way to get that really inside look into what these animals’ lives are like.
If you had to spend one day with just one animals or one set of them, who would you want to spend it with? And what would you do?
Courtney Cameron: Oh, that’s a really tough question. All the animals I work with are my favorite, and I tell them that every day. Because we’re lucky to get to see them every day, and it’s very hard for me to pick favorites. I love all the animals that I get to work with.
But if you promise not to tell the gorillas, I would say maybe I’d pick – I don’t know, it’s so hard. The family group or the bachelor group, some gorilla group probably would be how I’d want to spend my day. And I honestly just like setting things up for them, and seeing them interact with what we’ve set up. I don’t know if you know anything about gorillas, but they have this food grumble they do when they come inside, or when they shift outside, and they they get their snacks. Just even that small moment of them being super happy to eat is a big moment in my day every day.
What is one thing that you hope audiences take away from watching this? What would you like want them to do next, or to think about Animal Kingdom?
Courtney Cameron: That’s a great question. First of all, it’d be great if people come visit us and see our animals if they haven’t done that yet. But second of all, I hope that this inspires viewers to learn more about the species that they see and the ways that they can take action to protect those species.
That’s something I’m really proud of working here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Disney Conservation Fund is a huge part of what we do, and it’s done a lot for wild animals in a lof of places. And I think hopefully once people watch the show, they’ll be inspired to take actions in their own lives, be it big or small. Recycle a cell phone, plant a pollinator garden, donate some funds or just learn more – any of those. Anything like that, I think, it would be really good if they can take that away.
A lot of people are probably nervous because of the pandemic, so there’s not as much outdoor group activity. How has that actually affected you, in terms of the park and interaction with the animals?
Courtney Cameron: We have sort of all the regulations in place. With regards to the park, I’m probably not the best person to speak to about that. I think our public affairs team kind of knows more about the ins and outs of the way that has affected our operation.
Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom will begin streaming through Disney+ on September 25.