I often read of Walt Disney World fans sitting back and lamenting about WDW's Animal Kingdom, making comments like “well, other than a few things, there's just not much there” and “it's really only a half day park.” Are you kidding me? Animal Kingdom combines two of the things things that mean a lot to me, Disney and animals. As a west coast Disneyland guy, I'm green with envy over Animal Kingdom, a park that would not be possible at the Disneyland Resort due to the fact that space is limited and at a premium and also there are 3 world class zoos within a couple hours driving distance of Disneyland.
But this isn't to say that Disneyland doesn't have its own mini Animal Kingdom with assorted creatures that, for me anyway, add so much to the Disneyland experience. It all starts out on Main Street with the horse drawn street cars that move people from the park entrance to the castle and back again in grand Disney style. Now I have a confession. In my adult life, I have never been on a horse drawn streetcar in Disneyland, nor do I have any intention to ever ride in a horse drawn streetcar. My reasoning is simple – I'm not going to let that beautiful animal drag my sorry behind up Main Street when I'm perfectly capable of walking. In fact, I'd have more enjoyment just walking beside the majestic horse as it made its way up the street. Yes, I know those huge beasts were bred for pulling, I'm just not going to let them pull me.
The horses are under the care of Disneyland's legendary Circle D Ranch, the facility used to house and care for many of Disneyland's real life animal friends.
The Circle D Ranch is just beyond the park boundaries above Frontierland. The animals of Disneyland could not be under better care. Besides the horses, Disneyland hosts a mini-petting zoo whose primary residents are goats. A petting zoo in Disneyland? Yep, and few things in the park bring a bigger smile on a toddler's face than chasing after docile goats who seem to have gotten used to the idea of children with outstretched hands reaching out to them. I can't go by the petting zoo without smiling a little bit which just adds to my Disney day. Also, on my bucket list of things to do at Disneyland is to witness “the running of the goats.”
Everyday around 4:30, the Disneyland cast members who work at the petting zoo open the gates and and allow the goats to race (more or less) back to their permanent home at the Circle D Ranch. It's an amusing spectacle (and can be enjoyed in various YouTube videos).
The Circle D Ranch also sees to the care of a fairly large population of four legged creatures most of which go unnoticed or completely unseen – the feral cats of Disneyland. The cats are used to keep down the mice population. The Circle D Ranch administers vetenary care for the cats and maintains stations for food and water for the cats that are completely out of view from park guests. In all my visits to Disneyland, I've had a feral cat sighting maybe 5 or 6 times. The encountering of one the cats is always a bit of a startling surprise and becomes something of a badge of honor. My sightings have been (and these are common places for cat sightings from my readings) the Hungry Bear Restaurant area in the secluded back boundary of Disneyland and the fenced off steps of the old Fantasyland Skyway Station. Over in DCA, I had a feral cat sighting over by the entrance to Monsters Inc.
We can't leave the discussion of Disneyland wild life without mentioning – ducks – the hundreds and hundreds of ducks that call Disneyland their home. And who has it better than a Disneyland duck? What a life! Warm weather, plenty of water to swim in, plenty of fenced off lawns and planters to stay out of harms way, and thousands of people who drop food scraps for consumption intentionally or unintentionally. Not a bad life at all. Ever heard of the expression “lucky duck”? A duck in Disneyland has to be where that expression originated from.
And one of my favorite Disneyland memories has to do with ducks of all things. Early one morning (probably an early morning entry) my wife and I entered Fantasyland. Over in the distance close to the Tea Cups, we saw a group of four or so cast members staring at the ground huddled around something. As we got closer, we saw that the cast members were huddled around a mother duck and 3 or 4 recently hatched baby duckings. People were now pouring into Fantasyland and the cast members were basically there providing safety for the ducks, at first, then escorted the family as they made their way to the waters of the Storybookland Canal. Whenever I see some cast member catch flack from some guest over something stupid, I think about those four cast members who were taking time out of their morning to make sure a family of ducks were safe and out of harms way.
No, Disneyland doesn't have lions or tigers or zebras or giraffes, not real ones anyway, but it still is able to stay in touch with nature's creatures in a very special way. Disneyland animals may not have that jaw dropping impact of something out of the African savanna or the jungles of Asia but what it does have in terms of animal life all add to charm and loveliness of the Disneyland Park experience.