We are obsessed with the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and have always wondered what it would be like to care for the animals on the savanna. Lucky for us, we got a chance to chat with Walt Disney World animal keeper Meaghan McCarthy. McCarthy is good buddies with the zebras, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, and other animals that you might have seen at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so she knows exactly what all the roar is about! Here’s everything we learned about her incredible job:
McCarthy has been making magic happen at Walt Disney World for six years.
McCarthy started out as a Wilderness Explorer intern at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, educating guests on animals, conservation, and connecting with nature.
When asked if she’s had a best day of work over the past six years, McCarthy responded, “I kind of actually have those a lot … We’re always busy doing something … training or providing the animals with some enrichment. It’s always so rewarding when I see a big training breakthrough.”
McCarthy’s work ethic is inspired by her participation at the Great Grevy’s Rally in Kenya.
Having volunteered remotely with Grevy’s Zebra Trust for a few years, McCarthy finally made her dream of being involved with the organization in Kenya come true! There, McCarthy took part in the Great Grevy’s Rally—a two-day photo census of the Grevy zebra population in Kenya—and witnessed the community’s undeterred dedication in the conservation of animals.
Now that she’s back to work at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, McCarthy said, “Seeing Great Grevy’s Rally firsthand is just so powerful. And so coming back, I really want to bring that message to our guests.”
McCarthy traveled to Africa as part of the Imperiled Species Conservation Program, which gives Disney Cast Members the opportunity to personally support the species they love through existing conservation programs.
Disney has a long tradition of supporting conservation and connecting kids and families to nature. The Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) has awarded more than $70 million in grants supporting efforts to save wildlife, inspire action, and protect the planet. The DCF was inspired by Walt Disney’s conservation legacy and established on Earth Day 1995 to help protect wildlife and wild places around the world.
Fun fact: McCarthy’s favorite zebra at the Park is named Laylee, who is very “food-motivated.” Same, Laylee. Same.
Putting smiles on Guests’ faces is McCarthy’s specialty.
Part of McCarthy’s duties is to drive along the Kilimanjaro Safaris path, where she can get a closer look at how the animals are interacting with one another. When she has an opportunity to speak with guests, McCarthy’s favorite fun fact is how rhinos like to wallow, a.k.a. roll around in the clay and mud. How cute!
Not too long ago, McCarthy had a heartwarming experience on a Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. She said, “I was showing them an iPad that has some cool interactive information on it, and as the family walked away, the little boy said to his dad, ‘That was so fun, Dad!’”
We’re sure that little boy said what everyone was thinking!
There are many perks of being an animal keeper at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including interacting with baby animals.
“We have really, really awesome animal care teams here,” McCarthy said.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a nutrition center—which formulates the most balanced diets for the animals, a science team, and a vet staff, to name a few. McCarthy continued, “It feels very fulfilling to be part of an expert team that is committed to working together to provide the best care for the animals.”
Part of the perks are the team gets to care for baby animals! And they even have baby Grevy’s zebras right now. Part of McCarthy’s role is caring for two new moms Laylee and Zuri, and their babies, called foals. Their names are Youka and Zalika.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. As part of the SSP, Disney’s animal care teams have been able to responsibly breed more than 200 species, thus ensuring healthy, genetically diverse animal populations for the future. In addition to the Grevy’s zebras, some of the most recent births include two Sumatran tiger cubs and a Nile hippopotamus calf.
Some of the baby animals currently at the Park include:
Laylee and her foal Youka share a sense of independence and curiosity.
Zuri and Zalika are both a bit bashful.
Stella is a one-and-a-half-year-old African elephant.
Sumatran tiger cubs Anala and Jeda are about eight months old!
Augustus the baby hippo was born just a few months ago. When describing Augustus, McCarthy gushed, “Oh, I love him… Part of our routine as we go out to take care of the animals on the safari ride is to drive by the hippo exhibit, so it’s been incredible for me to watch him grow and to just see him resting near his mom and gaining a little bit of independence.”
McCarthy added, “We have a baby rhino who’s three and a half now, and I feel like her horn is just growing longer every time I come in on Monday.”
They grow too fast!
A day in the life of an animal keeper at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is busy, yet fulfilling.
Keepers come in as early as 5:00 a.m. to get a start on their day caring for the animals. A typical shift consists of feeding and training the animals, preparing the Park for guests, holding team meetings, and cleaning the barns from overnight. The night team takes over each evening.
“Then we’ll do it all again the next day!” McCarthy says. “It’s very rewarding … It’s a great challenge, but a challenge nonetheless—to keep moving forward, setting and raising the bar, and making sure that we’re striving for excellence.” Disney Parks’ animal keepers work from the heart!
Heihei would fit right in at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
If McCarthy could have any Disney animal come to life, she would choose Heihei from Moana. She said, “He reminds me of the ostrich. I would put him with the ostrich, for sure.”