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Earning your Disney badge

New scavenger hunt in play at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Dewayne Bevil

Theme Park Ranger

11:03 AM EDT, July 4, 2013

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Disney World is taking a natural approach to its latest in-park scavenger-hunt experience.

The Wilderness Explorers program, which debuted last month, sends guests on missions to earn badges at 31 stations spread across Disney's Animal Kingdom. Most of the goals are based on the full-time furry or feathered residents of the theme park, and many of the activities have an educational bent.

"This is truly a new way for guests to experience the park," says Nadine Kocanjer, area manager for premium experiences at Animal Kingdom.

The activity is rooted in the 2009 Disney-Pixar animated film "Up," which featured young Russell, who was a member of a Wilderness Explorers troop. His handbook is incorporated into the park activity.

The first step for guests/new troop members is to check in at the Wilderness Explorers headquarters on the bridge that leads to the park's Tree of Life. There folks learn the Wilderness Explorers call — which involves hand motions, a "caw, caw" and a "roar" — and receive the handbook, instructions and their first badges of the day.

The handbook has a map of the stations and explanations on how to earn each badge, which are really stickers that will be placed in the handbook.

Our first stop was with the flamingos at Discovery Island. The lesson was about tracking individual birds via tags on their legs and how humans also can monitor the animals using remote cameras. Once we spotted the bird with the tag shown in the handbook, we were rewarded with the Flamingo Badge. We didn't even have to stand on one leg.

We took away another bit of info. Male birds are tagged on the right leg; females on the left leg.

"The content isn't limited to what's in the book," Kocanjer says. "It's a jumping-off point."

On the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, we learned about the nests of the Taveta golden weaver to earn the Birding Badge. To earn the Hiking Badge, explorers encounter gorillas, colombos monkeys and termites.

Not all badges depend on wildlife. At the Mount Everest Badge, near the Expedition Everest roller coaster, guests prepare for an ascent.

"It's really learning about the mountain and what it might take to prepare you to climb Mount Everest," Kocanjer says.

There are cultural badges that require a conversation with cast members from Asia and Africa.

"It's not a scripted experience, but truly an individual interaction and engagement with the cast member to learn about that culture," Kocanjer says.

Unlike the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game or the Agent P World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, there's no equipment to carry. And completion of tasks doesn't result in a changed environment: Enchanted idols don't pop out of the jungle, Audio-Animatronic birds don't burst into tiki-themed tunes. The vibe is low-tech.

"That is purposeful," Kocanjer says. "We really wanted to make sure that the Wilderness Explorers experience allows our guests to connect with the park, its beautiful and natural spaces [and] the animals that reside here."

All 31 activities can be completed in one day, but that's not the design, she says. Guests are encouraged to bring the handbook back another day.

"Exploring is a lifelong adventure," Kocanjer says.

dbevil@tribune.com or 407-420-5477

Wilderness Explorers

Where: Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park, off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando

When: The park opens at 9 a.m. daily.

Cost: Included in Animal Kingdom admission. A one-day ticket is $90 ($84 for ages 3-9).

Phone: 407-824-4321

Online: DisneyWorld.com