Abstract: Modern zoos strive to educate visitors about zoo animals and their wild counterparts’ conservation needs while fostering appreciation for wildlife in general. This research review examines how zoos influence those who visit them. Much of the research to-date examines zoo visitors’ behaviors and perceptions in relation to specific exhibits, animals, and/or programs. In general, visitors have more positive perceptions and behaviors about zoos, their animals, and conservation initiatives the more they interact with animals, naturalistic exhibits, and zoo programming/staff. Furthermore, zoo visitors are receptive to conservation messaging and initiatives at zoos and are more likely to participate in on-site conservation opportunities as opposed to after their visits. The research also suggests that repeat visitors are even more inclined to seek out conservation efforts compared to those visiting zoos for the first time. While current research suggests that repeat visitors are more likely to engage in conservation efforts, little is known about causal factors related to such findings, and almost no research exists to-date comparing the conservation efforts of visitors vs. non-visitors. This latter comparison will likely play a greater role in future zoo visitor research, since it poses one of the most important metrics for evaluating the specific effects visiting a zoo can have on people engaging in conservation efforts in general.
Photo credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore