Thanks for posting that! Interesting interview.
TALKING WITH... BETH STEVENS, 46, HEAD OF WALT DISNEY WORLD'S ANIMAL KINGDOM.
Theme-park chief wants us to care about the animals
January 31, 2006
Beth Stevens, 46, is head of Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom and just oversaw installation of the newest megaride, Expedition Everest. In addition to running the 5,000-acre theme park that last year drew 8.2 million visitors, the Disney World vice president is internationally active in wildlife conservation and president of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. She spoke last week with staff writer Scott Powers.
Question: How does Expedition Everest fit in at Disney's Animal Kingdom?
Answer: You know that this park is all about animals, real, imaginary and extinct. This really adds that imaginary piece to the park, with the yeti [Abominable Snowman]. I think you can tell from the reaction so far, it's already a great hit.
Q.: Will the animals still be the park's main attraction?
A.: The theme of the park is animals. So whether this comes out in rides like Dinosaur and Expedition Everest, or whether it comes out in rides with the live animals, like the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride, or whether it comes out in stage shows, like Festival of the Lion King, or our bird show at Caravan Stage, or whether it comes out in our characters, animals are still our central theme.
Q.: How does Animal Kingdom keep conservation in its mission?
A.: Central to our mission is our respect for animals and our care for animals and for the future of wildlife and wild places. Whether you're trying to save animals from extinction at Dinosaur, or the Yeti, who is the protector of the mountain and all of its inhabitants, or you're trying to save animals from poachers on the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride -- woven throughout we have messages that really inspire people to care about wildlife.
Q.: And as a Walt Disney World vice president, how do you stay in touch with your conservation roots?
A.: That's the beauty of this park, that it's got all of the theme park elements, and it's got the strong conservation mission. I am very active in our own conservation programs as well as I serve on a number of boards, and I am also currently the president of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
Q.: Do you have pets or animals at home?
A.: Yep. We have right now two dogs, two German shepherds.
Q.: How is the new elephant baby doing?
A.: NadirahÖ is doing absolutely fabulously. She is first of all a delight. She's very, very healthy. And the thing that is so exciting is she is very integrated into the rest of the herd. And you see our herd of elephants at Animal Kingdom behaving absolutely naturally, just as you would see in the wild, where the females in the herd, they all act like aunties, they all help to care for the babies.
Q.: Do you have as much time as you want to spend with the animals?
A.: There are many, many things I would love to be able to spend tons of time doing, and I think the challenge for me is there is never enough time to do everything. But I'm thankful for all the time I have when I am able to be closer to the animals, or closer to the conservation work, or closer to our shows and attractions in the park.
Q.: What would you like to see the American Zoo and Aquarium Association accomplish under your leadership?
A.: Probably the most important is really getting the word out about the great work that zoos and aquariums are doing for animals, for animal care and for conservation. We have combined over 150 million visitors to our accredited zoos and aquariums every year. That just represents an unprecedented opportunity to really inspire all of those visitors to care about wildlife.
Q.: Did you go to Nepal [with the Disney designers who researched the ride]?
A.: I did not.
Q.: Other than Animal Kingdom, what is your favorite Disney park?
A.: I think I would have to say the Magic Kingdom, because that is where it all began.
Q.: What is your favorite ride outside the Animal Kingdom?
A.: I think my favorite spot outside of Animal Kingdom is the Living Seas [at Epcot].
Q.: Do you go to Universal and SeaWorld?
A.: Uh huh.
Q.: Do you have a professional relationship with Sea World?
A.: Absolutely. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, just like Disney's Animal Kingdom, are accredited members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, so we all work together through the AZA.
Q.: Do you have a favorite Michael Eisner story?
A.: He came to visit our first baby elephant, Tufani, and he was absolutely totally just enthralled with just watching this baby elephant. That was a wonderful moment for me.
Q.: What do think about the Pixar deal?
A.: Well, I think it's very exciting for the future of our company.
Q.: Any more big rides projected for Animal Kingdom?
A.: We don't usually give out all our plans for the future, and right now we are just really focused on making this one just as successful as it can be.
Q.: Can you tell us anything about the plans for the replacement of the Tarzan Rocks show?
A.: No I can't. I hope we're going to be able to make some announcements sometime this spring.
Q.: What is your favorite part of Everest ride?
A.: I have four favorites. My four favorites are the views, which are spectacular, over Animal Kingdom and all of Walt Disney World; and then it's the backwards spiral sensation; and then the drop, which is really incredible; and then of course it's the yeti, and that is really a wow.
Q.: What do you think will be your customers' favorite part?
A.: I would tell you that our guests, and we have had cast previews and we are now in the middle of the previews for annual pass holders and Disney Vacation Club members, and they are getting off this ride just clapping and cheering and just loving it. I am hearing everything. They loved the theming. They loved the whole village and the whole story that goes with it. And they loved the ride and the thrill of the ride, and they're riding it over and over again. Once again, I think they're like me. I think they have trouble narrowing it down to one thing.
Q.: What part of the ride would you hope visitors take away with them when they leave?
A.: A little bit of the thrill of what it is like to be close to Mount Everest. I hope they would take away with them a little bit of the story of the yeti and how interconnected the lives of the people who live in that area and how interconnected the culture is with the animals in that area.
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