Monday, April 18, 2011

Discovery Island in Bay Lake at Walt Disney World

Q: Dave, is there any truth to the rumors that there are still animals living on the old Discovery Island in Bay Lake at Walt Disney World? Was all the wildlife transferred to Disney's Animal Kingdom when it closed?
Jennifer, Bristol, Connecticut

A [Dave Smith]: While Disney no longer has any animals on the island that are cared for by its Animal Programs staff, there are now quite a few wild animals, including many buzzards, that call the island home. Some of the original animals were transferred to Disney's Animal Kingdom, while others were sent to zoos.

[Marcio Disney]

Discovery Island is an 11½-acre island in Bay Lake at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Between 1974 and 1999 it operated as Treasure Island for Disney.

The island opened as Treasure Island on April 8, 1974, as a place to observe wildlife. It closed to the public on April 8, 1999, but continued to operate until July 9, 1999, at which point all of its animals had been relocated to new homes at Disney's Animal Kingdom (whose Safari Village hub area was renamed Discovery Island) and other zoos. From the early 1900s, the island was known as Raz Island, named after the family that lived there.

In the late 1930s, it was purchased for $800 by a man named Delmar "Radio Nick" Nicholson, who renamed the island "Idle Bay Isle" and lived there for 20 years with his wife and pet crane. It was later sold, renamed "Riles Island," and used as a hunting retreat. Disney bought the island in 1965 as part of its secretive property acquisitions before building Walt Disney World Resort.

After its closing, Disney considered teaming up with the makers of the Myst video game to create a cutting-edge interactive experience to be called "Myst Island". Guests to the island would explore unusual locations and unravel a mystery about the island's previous inhabitants. This attraction never got beyond the concept stage.

The island's facilities were the home of the last known dusky seaside sparrow before it died in 1987. The species was declared extinct in 1990. The island remains closed to the public. It can easily be seen from Disney's Contemporary Resort and from Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, as well as from boat trips between them. The island is adjacent to Disney's River Country water park, which is also closed.

On April 23, 2010 Orlando NBC affiliate television station WESH reported that "urban explorer" and blogger Shane Perez secretly visited the abandoned island, and the station broadcast some of the video images Perez claims to have captured. Perez told news reporters that he and several friends swam to the island under cover of darkness. During their visit they reportedly discovered "abandoned buildings, cages, preserved snakes in jars, even old employee photos". According to the television news story, Disney officials are considering banning Perez for life from Disney properties. Perez claims that the visit predates the Florida four year statute of limitation for trespassing.

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