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Key Largo Woodrats at Animal Kingdom
We always enjoy a trip to Animal Kingdom in Orlando, as it is a park with a huge range of things to do and see. It is probably the most diverse of the four Disney parks, and not only is it a theme park, but it is also the place where a huge amount of work is done to help preserve species who are on the threatened, or endangered, list.
Some of this fascinating work can be seen at the park itself, and one such conservation effort has been the rescue of the Key Largo woodrat. This little animal is under threat from stray cats and pythons – not natives of Florida, but Burmese Pythons which have spread from the Everglades.
Woodrats are cute little animals, furry, brown and white. They are quite difficult to study because they are shy and nocturnal and tend to like to live in isolation, building nests under things so that they can hide. It was in 2005 that Disney began its research with just 12 woodrats. By 2008 they had bred 15 pups bringing their numbers up to 27, but the species is still in trouble. However, one of the bonuses of this research is that they have been able to observe their behaviour in a way which has been hitherto impossible. For example, adults like to stand on their hind legs and ‘box’ and they like to climb. Nursing pups have to cling onto their mothers wherever she goes, and she just drags them along with her.
The Key Largo woodrat is now confined to just one island, Key Largo, right at the north end of the Florida Keys where they live in tropical hardwood forests. There are several reasons for this, one being that much of the areas have been built on. The other reason is that large numbers of feral cats roam Key Largo, and these prey on the woodrat, as do large snakes.
Disney have found that their wildlife conservation programmes are very popular with visitors who are fascinated by their endangered species programmes, as much of their work is in public view. Although efforts are being made to reduce the feral cat population, and to get rid of the Burmese pythons it is a difficult job. It is feared that only 200 woodrats still exist, so the work that Disney do at Animal Kingdom is of great importance, in trying to keep the species alive.
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