Disney Philanthropy: It's All About Animals and Nature

Did you know Disney has a conservation grantmaking program, with a big focus on wildlife? I didn’t. The company just made 141 grants for Simbas, Baloos, Dumbos, you name it. 

Conspiracy theorists are always accusing Disney of having some kind of twisted secret agenda hidden in their cartoons. Turns out, the Walt Disney Company has some not-so-secret-or-twisted agendas when it comes to corporate giving, and one of them is conservation.

Since 1995, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has been giving out hundreds of grants, with this latest round bringing the running total to $27 million.  

The funding comes from Disney, but also includes contributions from guests who stay at the company’s outdoors-related theme parks, like Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Man, I didn’t know about those either. I guess I need to brush up on my Disney. 

Disney has been involved in a number of conservation efforts, including in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the African Wildlife Foundation. It says that it has helped plant 3 million trees and protect 40,000 acres of coral reef. 

But actual grantmaking is mainly focused on wildlife and habitats, and over the years, Disney has put millions into protecting elephants, rhinos, sea turtles, primates, and birds.  

The 2014 grants went to 141 organizations, almost all related to some species of wildlife, and with each grant at about $25,000. Grants seem mostly to go toward projects in North America, South America, Africa, although it’s a pretty big spread, getting into China, India, even the Russian Federation. Here are a few cool projects: 

  • The University of Hawaii Foundation received a renewal grant from Disney for its work on genetic data research techniques as they relate to coral reef conservation. The testing is being used to better design marine protection areas by mapping out how particular species of coral are connected. 
  • The African People & Wildlife Fund received a grant for conservation efforts for Tanzania’s threatened African lion population. The group works with communities to manage lions in relation to livestock, and to protect lion habitats.
  • The International Fund for Animal Welfare was funded for its work in China to protect elephants. The group is working with communities and governments to develop habitat management and conservation initiatives. 
  • The Zoo Conservation Outreach Group & Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas received a grant for the first long-term study of the giant armadillo, using satellite transmitters and cameras to monitor and understand the armadillo. The project follows the armadillo’s heightened profile as the mascot of the World Cup. 

The grants really are all over the place, suggesting that lots of different groups can get in the action; even the dollar amounts are not huge.

Another cool thing about Disney's funding is that it has a Rapid Reponse Fund. It explains that "this funding has been used for such urgent needs as replacing housing or belongings for field scientists affected by civil unrest in Rwanda, cleaning sea turtle nesting sites on beaches demolished by tsunamis, and purchasing medicines to combat disease outbreaks."

Alas, though, these grants are even smaller than the regular ones, and are capped at $5,000.

Check out more about the fund here if you want to dig in further.