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Q&A: Dr. Pye from ‘The Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’

by Attractions Magazine Staff

“The Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom” is back for a second season on National Geographic and Disney+, and a few lucky cast members were treated to a special preview of the new season followed by a Q&A with the show’s veterinarians.

"The Magic of Disney's Animal Kingdom"

By Sarah Gilliland

Narrated by Disney Legend Josh Gad, the series offers a “backstage pass” to two popular Walt Disney World Resort animal experiences: Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot.

Attractions Magazine had the opportunity to interview Dr. Geoff Pye, animal health director at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and one of the lead veterinarians on the show. Pye shared his thoughts about being filmed at work, what we can expect in season 2, and which animal is his favorite.

"The Magic of Disney's Animal Kingdom" - Vet panel

What does it mean to you to be able to share your work in this way with the world?

It’s pretty incredible. We have a viewing window into our hospital at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so we are pretty used to having our guests watch what we do. That’s thousands of people. When you start looking at the breadth of National Geographic’s channels and Disney+, that’s hundreds of thousands of people. Part of our mission here at Disney is saving the planet, and being able to get that message out to so many people is just incredible. 

How is season 2 different from season 1? Will we see any animals return from season 1?

When I think about season 1, I think about care. Season 1 really went into the depth that we go to care for our animals here at Walt Disney World. In season 2, we deliver on that, but we go even further. You will see familiar animals and familiar cast members, but in season 2, we’ve added in the Tri-Circle Ranch and a story on a pony over there, Lily, and Disney’s Vero Beach resort and their conservation effort with sea turtles.

What do you want the general public to know about what you do?

I really hope we can inspire in two different ways. One way is to inspire folks to become the next veterinary technician or animal scientist. When I talk to guests in our parks, it’s always the young children that love our show. I’m excited for them to have ten more episodes to watch. The second bit is to inspire people to take action. Disney’s conservation effort is really focused around what we call “Planet Possible,” [which] is really taking that optimistic look and inspiring them to take action in a positive way.

How can we help you with your mission of conservation at home?

There are a lot of actions that can be taken. I hope that we manage to inspire people to change their behavior at home. [I hope they] think a little bit more about what they are doing with their trash or what they are doing to provide habitat for natural wildlife.

If someone is interested in doing your work, what path should they take now and into the future?

If they want to be a veterinarian, they should study sciences in high school and focus on their classes in undergraduate programs until they can get into veterinary school. Volunteering with a conservancy or their local zoo is a great way to understand where their interests lie. There are many jobs here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that contribute to saving the planet. We have hospital keepers, zoo keepers, our nutrition team, and our environment team. 

What is it like being filmed while you work?

It’s not that different for us. We’ve had a viewing window into our hospital since the park opened 25 years ago. To then add in two camera people, a sound person, and a producer is not really that different. [Being filmed] has been a natural extension of the work that we do. When we are talking to our guests in the window, we are delivering messages and wanting them to understand what we are doing. The TV show is meant to be more intimate and natural.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job? The most rewarding?

The most challenging aspect for a zoo veterinarian is that it is the broadest of the specialties. We are caring for thousands of species at once. You have to be comfortable not knowing everything. I do what I like to call a gratitude walk in the mornings before the park is full of guests. I visit the animals I have been able to help. Knowing that I’ve had the opportunity to impact an animal’s life or save an animal’s life is very rewarding.

Do you have a favorite animal or species? Why are they your favorite?

Harper, the White-Cheeked Gibbon, is my favorite. Her mom had been in labor for 12 hours, and we were concerned because she had given birth [normally] six times before, so we brought her in and discovered her baby was trying to come out backward, and mom was not dilated. I performed a caesarian section on her in front of our guests, and I saved her and her mom’s lives.

Have you ever been surprised on the job by something? How did you manage it, and what did you learn from that experience?

I get surprised by the personality of animals when I wasn’t necessarily expecting it. In season 1, a chicken named Popcorn was left for us in the Magic Kingdom car park. Popcorn came to us completely disheveled. We took care of her and integrated her into our flock of chickens in the Affection Section at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Her personality shined through, and it surprised me how much personality she had.

If you could travel anywhere and study any animal, which one would it be and why?

My heart belongs to koalas. I grew up in Australia. I have a love for the native wildlife over there. In the 1920s, a population of koalas was taken to St. Bees Island and just left there. Because the island doesn’t have human impacts like dogs, mining, and cars, the population has grown. If I had to pick a species here [at Disney’s Animal Kingdom], I certainly love rhinos. The opportunity to go to Africa and work with them would be fantastic.

The Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” season 2, is now streaming on Disney+. Click here to see the trailer.

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