Disney plans theme park for real, mythical beasts

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) , Move over, Mickey Mouse some real animals will soon be moving into town.

The Walt Disney Co. announced plans Tuesday to build Disney's Wild Animal Kingdom, featuring beasts from real life as well as mythology.

Walt Disney Chairman Michael Eisner called the new park ''a celebration of animals that ever or never existed.''

''Disney's Wild Animal Kingdom will be magical, fanciful and fun in the tradition of all of our theme parks, yet it will incorporate a new dimension of reality with live animals in their natural habitats,'' Eisner said.

Construction of the park in Central Florida is expected with begin in September and should take about two-and-a-half years to complete, with early 1998 as the target opening date.

Disney refused to say how much it will cost to build the 500-acre park. The Orlando Sentinal reported Tuesday it will cost about $760 million, or about twice that of Epcot Center.

In addition to the wildlife park, Disney also announced Tuesday some new and expanded attractions at Walt Disney World, including new resorts, educational and sports centers, and the construction of two Disney cruise ships.

The centerpiece of the wildlife park will be a 14-story tall Tree of Life, which will be larger than Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center. More than 50-feet wide at its trunk, the tree will feature an intricate hand-carved swirling tapestry of animal forms.

The park would ultimately include themed ''lands'' connected by a central hub: Africa, which takes visitors on a safari with live, wild animals; the Beastly Kingdom, focusing on mythological creatures, like unicorns and dragons ; and Dinoland, with dinosaurs and extinct species brought to life through robotics.

Disney's Wild Animal Kingdom also will feature a Conservation Station, which will be the headquarters for conservation and species survival activities for the park.

Disney has assembled a panel of wildlife, animal protection and conservation experts to advise in planning the park.

''With Disney's resources and genius in storytelling, they have the ability to do something that has never been done before,'' said one of the advisers, Roger Caras, national president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. ''As for the fantasy and show-biz glitz among the strong conservation theme, my feeling is that there is no need to apologize for it.''

Most of the animals for the park will come from other zoos or from wildlife officials who have rescued orphaned animals. Others will be taken from endangered habitats.

The park is expected to attract several million people in its first year, and it should add a substantial number of employees to Walt Disney World's work force of 35,000.

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