DENVER – There’s a lot of hype about the new "The Lion King" movie, but as most kids in Colorado can tell you, many of the animals you see in the movie can be found at the Denver Zoo.
The zoo’s lions and hyenas, two of the species critical to the movie plot, are right inside the entrance to the zoo.
Tobias, the Denver Zoo’s newest lion, can often be seen with the three female lions who call the zoo home. Tobias was brought to the zoo through the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s species survival plan, which for lions is coordinated by Hollie Colahan, the vice president for animal care at the Denver Zoo.
The lions share a habitat with the hyenas — which is one animal that may have not been properly represented in the original movie, zookeepers said. As visitors who watch the hyena demonstration at the zoo can tell you, they are smarter than depicted in the movie.
Another animal familiar to fans of the movie are the mandrills. Most visitors who see the red and blue faces of the mandrills instantly recognize them as being the same animals as Rafiki. Zookeepers say the mandrills at the zoo have very similar personalities to their movie counterpart.
“They’re very wise, incredibly smart animals,” said primate keeper Tenley Davis. “Rafiki is a little rambunctious and he has a lot of energy — and that’s the same as our mandrills here at the zoo.”
Rhinos, red river hogs, cape buffalo, giraffes and zebras also play vital roles not only in the movie, but in the circle of life — and we’re not just talking about animals eating their prey.
“We clean up all of the poop around the zoo because it’s very not sanitary, right? But in the wild or out in Africa they leave it,” said Amanda Faliano, the Denver Zoo’s hoof stock keeper. “So the seeds that they might eat are actually left and they are pollinating leaving that seed all around Africa and actually helping that ecosystem.”
Fans of the movie will also see messages about wildlife conservation, something that’s extremely important at the Denver Zoo. In fact, zookeepers say just by visiting the zoo, you are supporting conservation efforts at the zoo, which in turn supports conservation around the world.
You can learn more about the making of Disney's new 'The Lion King' when ABC presents 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight with Robin Roberts,' Tuesday, July 16 at 7 p.m. on Denver7.