Dr. Mark at Disney, Episode #107

Dr. Mark at Disney

Today’s guest is Dr. Mark Penning, Vice President of Disney Animals, Science, and Environment for Walt Disney Parks and Resort. He oversees animal care and environmental initiatives around the world and leverages field conservation initiatives supported by the company. His team shares inspirational stories and experiences of nature and animals with theme park resorts and guests.

He is a trained Veterinarian who owned and operated a veterinary and wildlife relocation business in South Africa before joining Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He specialized in the treatment of birds and reptiles and has done surgical work on lions, elephants, and a host of other animals. Listen in for some great stories about his adventures caring for some of the world’s most precious animals.

You will want to hear this episode if you are interested in…

  • [3:11] Learn more about Dr. Mark Penning and his passion for animals
  • [7:58] Dr. Mark shares about his role at Disney
  • [10:56] How Gino the Gorilla impacted Dr. Mark
  • [18:13] The gorilla orphanage in Rwanda and the DRC
  • [20:52] How bees keep elephants from destroying crops
  • [25:06] Disney’s efforts that protect the planet
  • [28:50] The importance of captive breeding programs
  • [33:42] Dr. Mark’s love for his personal animals
  • [38:27] What listeners can do to protect wildlife
  • [42:11] What Dr. Mark did that brought him joy

Dr. Mark shares about his role at Disney

Dr. Mark oversees Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge (where guests get to wake up to a giraffe outside of their window). He oversees the animals used in film and television as well. Animals used to be treated as props. Now, they encourage Hollywood to shoot everything they need in a natural setting without forcing the animals to travel. Dr. Mark is passionate about conservation efforts and is proud to point out that the Disney Conservation fund has directed over $120 million to field conservation programs around the world.

How Gino the Gorilla impacted Dr. Mark

Gino is a Silverback Gorilla that Dr. Mark works with who cares for a family group. He’s a massive animal and fearsome creature yet gentle with babies. He’ll pick them up and coo at them while fiercely protecting them from predators.

Gino and his family have a backstage space at Disney that they live in with air-conditioned bedrooms. They can choose to be indoors whenever they like. When they’re indoors, they’re in close contact with humans to make sure they’re healthy. Gino’s caretakers can ask him to give them his left ear so they can take his temperature and he’ll do it without question. They can even brush his teeth. Why? Because they built a relationship of trust.

How bees keep elephants from destroying crops

As elephant populations are protected, they grow. And as human populations grow, there’s conflict between the two. If you’re a father and growing a crop for your family and an elephant eats everything and you’re left with nothing, you won’t like elephants.

So how do they keep elephants away from crops? Elephants are afraid of bees. A particular species of bees will swarm and attack—even elephants. So they created a beehive contraption to protect the crops, which has worked quite well as a conservation effort.

Disney’s efforts that protect the planet

The shifting of climate patterns brings significant challenges. Disney works to protect the planet and operate responsibly. They try to leverage non-fossil-fuel-burning technology whenever possible. Disney’s solar grid produces enough solar power to power two of Disney’s parks. That’s a significant contribution to the grid that they’re proud of. Disney strives to go the extra mile. Nothing is ever done but always being improved.

What listeners can do to protect wildlife

What can you do to protect the wildlife around you? Dr. Marks encourages listeners to create a habitat in their garden. There are plants that bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other creatures love. Learn about the butterflies in your region and what they need to thrive and plant those. Let the insect population thrive.

Once you do, birds and other species will begin to populate and thrive. Don’t forget about supporting your local zoo and aquarium. Many of them play a large role in protecting wildlife across the globe.

Listen to the whole episode for a fascinating glimpse into the life of a Disney employee working with some of the most amazing creatures that exist on this planet!

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Dr. Mark Penning


Dr. Mark Penning oversees animal care and environmental initiatives for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products at our sites around the globe. Mark is based at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and also leads the teams responsible for Disney field conservation efforts to protect wildlife and wild habitats around the world, and the responsible portrayal of animals and nature in Disney film and television productions.

Mark is a veterinarian by training, with a special interest in wildlife. He previously served as CEO of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research in Durban, South Africa – a non-profit organization dedicated to marine research and conservation. He has served as President of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an organization based in Barcelona representing the premier zoos and aquariums around the world. He sits on the board of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and is a Trustee of Wild Welfare, a UK-based animal welfare organization.

Guests on the Mitlin Money Mindset Show are not affiliated with CWM, LLC, and opinions expressed herein may not be representative of CWM, LLC. CWM, LLC is not responsible for the guest’s content linked on this site.

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