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Zoo Education

Scientific Papers

zsl conservation education.jpg

Engaging internal and external audiences to develop and promote zoo-based conservation efforts (Nageotte et al., 2024).

In a new multi-phase study published in PLOS ONE, both zoo staff and visitors were engaged with to identify which conservation actions should be promoted in a conservation campaign to be developed by the zoo:
Phase 1: internal staff attended workshop to brainstorm ideas, with 164 actions identified and ranked.
Phase 2: Online surveys administered to zoo visitors, asking to state their interest in the top 20 actions identified in phase 1. Data were analysed using the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, and the list was narrowed down to 10 actions
Phase 3: Second survey administered, with visitors asked to state interest, benefits and barriers of the 10 actions previously identified.
Based on the information collected, it was concluded the campaign should focus on habitat restoration and the purchasing of wildlife-friendly products.

A meta-analysis of the effect of visiting zoos and aquariums on visitors’ conservation knowledge, beliefs, and behavior (McNally et al., 2024).

A systematic review of the effects of zoo-led interventions on visitors' knowledge and beliefs was published in the journal of Conservation Biology:
✔Zoo-led interventions from 56 studies were identified and described.
✔Six behaviour change techniques have been used in interventions to date.
✔Small to medium positive effects on visitors identified - increased knowledge, improved attitudes towards conservation and self-reported willingness to act for biodiversity.
✔No publication bias detected but effect sizes varied across studies/interventions, with larger effects observed in single-institution studies.

Visitor engagement with zoo staff and interpretive demonstrations increases visitor stay time in two free-flight aviaries (Lyon et al., 2023).

A study recently published in Zoo Biology investigated how engagement with zoo staff and demonstrations influenced visitor stay time in two aviaries:
Longer stays in the exhibit when there were opportunities to engage with staff and to watch talks and demonstrations.
✔Educational materials such as bird guide handouts also increased visitor stay time in the aviaries.
No consistent effects found for group size and composition on visitor stay time.
✔Applications to zoo visitor experience and education programmes.

Science Education in Primary Students in Ireland: Examining the Use of Zoological Specimens for Learning (Byrne et al., 2023).

Can an in-person educational intervention with the use of zoological specimens enhance learning in primary students? A paper in JZBG compared attitudes and knowledge of students before & after an in-person, website OR video educational intervention:
✔ Three schools in Ireland included: 165 primary-level students.
✔ In-person teaching with zoological specimens resulted in significant improvement in attitudes.
✔ Learning achievements were similar in in-person and online lesson types, but an overall improvement in comparison to the pre-intervention phase was detected.
✔ Zoological specimens can be an effective tool in primary education - applications to zoo outreach programmes.

Profiling and comparing participants of online and on-site educational programmes: Case study of the symposium on giant salamander in Hiroshima City Asa Zoological Park, Japan (Anzai et al., 2023).

The participants of an online VS on-site zoo education programmes were compared in a study published in the JZAR:
✔ Japanese giant salamander symposium held 4x on-site, 1x online, 1x hybrid.
✔ Online symposium attended by people who never visited the zoo and by a higher number of first time participants from distant locations.
✔ Online participants showed a preference to attend online repeat events.
✔ Online education programmes may have a wider reach, but may also fail to encourage people to visit the zoo.

Connecting to Zoos and Aquariums during a COVID-19 Lockdown (Macri & Wells, 2023).

A study in JZBG investigated the use of the resources offered by zoos and aquariums during periods of COVID-19 related closures, to keep connecting people with animals:
✔548 participants in total: 302 (~55%) chose to stay connected to a zoo during COVID-19 lockdown.
82% of the participants who chose to stay connected did so via social media, while 51% used webcams.
✔While 75% claimed to have used the resources for their own interest in animals, 36% enjoyed sharing the information with others. 
✔Factors such as previous/current zoo membership influenced likelihood to use the resources.
✔Applications to zoo education and outreach programmes.

A comparison of staff presence and signage on zoo visitor behavior (Tay et al.,, 2023).

Can staff presence and/or signage reduce negative visitor behaviours at the zoo? A paper in Zoo Biology investigated:
✔Negative visitor behaviours were significantly lower when uniformed zoo staff was present.
Signage alone did not seem to affect negative visitor behaviour.
✔Future research should look into the effects of different sign design or explore other methods to reduce negative visitor behaviour.

Assessing the effect of interpretation design traits on zoo visitor engagement (Edney et al.,, 2023)

How does interpretation design affect zoo visitor engagement? A paper in Zoo Biology investigated:
✔Nearly 4x more visitors stopped, and for longer, at interactive signs than at standard text + graphics signs.
✔More visitors stopped at signs in immersive exhibits.
✔Visitors stopped for longer at signs containing images of humans.
Applications to interpretation design and zoo education.

Battitude: A virtual zoo ‘bat experience’ produces positive change in attitudes to an unpopular species 
(Johnson & Price, 2023)

Can a virtual "bat experience" at the zoo promote positive changes in visitor attitudes towards bats? A study in JZAR investigated:
✔ 5-minute "Virtual Bat Experience" with videos, images & information about zoo-housed fruit bats.
✔ 316 people surveyed before and after experience.
✔ Positive attitude changes detected for all measures.
✔ Previous visit to a zoo bat exhibit also seemed to encourage positive attitudes.

Data triangulation confirms learning in the zoo environment (Collins & O'Riordan, 2022)

A mixed-methods study in Environmental Education Research investigated learning in one zoo and one aquarium:
Three methods used: match pairs surveys, behavioural observations, conversational content analysis;
Learning was observed in most participants, but it was greater in those that took part in an educational intervention;
Mixed-methods research & data triangulation allow for a more solid evaluation of the effectiveness of zoo education programmes.

Beyond inspiration: Translating zoo and aquarium experiences into conservation behavior (Routman et al., 2022)

A paper in Zoo Biology discussed a framework to assist zoos & aquariums in encouraging conservation action in their visitors:
✔ Shift the balance: Increase motivation, remove barriers;
Extrinsic motivators & low barriers have the potential to encourage action even in individuals with low intrinsic motivation;
✔ Animal experiences, educational elements & social marketing can be used to achieve these goals.

The More the Merrier? Zoo Visitors’ Affective Responses and Perceptions of Welfare across an Increase in Giraffe Density (Sherman et al., 2022)

A study published in Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens investigated how zoo visitors perceived the welfare of giraffes as new members joined the group:
✔ The visitors' predispositions & affective responses correlated with their assessment of animal welfare;
✔ Visitors perceived giraffe welfare as more positive when more members were added to the group;
✔ Visitors perceived giraffes as well cared for but responded less positively to how happy they were or their exhibit size;
✔ Important to consider visitor perceptions of welfare to improve their experience & education.

Learning outcomes measured in zoo and aquarium conservation education (Schilbert & Scheersoi, 2022)

Published earlier this year, a study in Conservation Biology reviewed the literature on zoo and aquarium education outcomes:
Cognitive outcomes were more frequently investigated than affective outcomes;
Definitions for learning outcomes were not used or were inconsistent;
✔Several factors influenced education outcomes, such as staff interaction and animal behaviour;
Hollistic approach to conservation education is recommended and a broader range of learning outcomes should be assessed.

Connecting workplace attachment and pro-environmental behaviors in zoo and aquarium professionals (Murphy & Maynard, 2022)

A paper in Zoo Biology investigated whether workplace attachment by zoo professionals affects their pro-environmental bevaviours:
✔Workplace attachment positively correlated with self-reported pro-environmental behaviours;

✔Staff in Operations Department: lower pro-environmental behaviours but strongest correlation between them and workplace attachment;
✔Workplace practices to increase attachment may improve pro-environmental behaviours in zoo employees.

Impact of animal programming on children's attitudes toward local wildlife (Jerger et al., 2022)

Can interactive, educational animal experiences changed children's attitudes towards wildlife? A study in Zoo Biology investigated...
✔ Both affilliation with local wildlife & willingness to live near it increased after animal program;
✔ Affilliation & willingness strongly correlated with each other.
✔ Seeing animals improved children attitudes towards them, even for species not present;
✔ Animal ambassadors can be effective tools in conservation education.

The impact of exhibit design on zoo visitor dwell time based on an unobtrusive observational methodology in Central European zoos (Kohut & Katona, 2022)

How does exhibit design affect visitor dwell times in zoos? A new paper in Journal of Zoo & Aquarium Research looked into it...

Longer dwell times: More viewing points, mixed-species exhibits, bridge-like walkways & stopping points;

Shorter dwell times: continuous wide barriers;

✔Animal welfare and zoo management factors were not considered, but applications to zoo exhibit design from a "visitor experience" perspective.

Measuring the effectiveness of using rangers to deliver a behavior change campaign on sustainable palm oil in a UK zoo (Major & Smith, 2022)

Do zoo rangers have an impact on the visitors' palm oil knowledge and attitudes? A paper in Zoo Biology investigated...
✔ Higher palm oil awareness & knowledge in visitors that talked with a ranger;
✔ Intentions to buy sustainable palm oil also higher in those visitors;
 Low engagement - only 1/4 of visitors spoke with a ranger.
✔ Rangers can be an effective tool in education campaigns, but their impact can be improved with higher visitor engagement.

The academic, career and personal benefits of zoological internships: A 10-year evaluation of a dolphin research internship (Matrai et al., 2022)

A study in Journal of Zoo & Aquarium Research evaluated the benefits of a zoo-based dolphin research internship:

175 evaluations submitted by interns;

✔ Programme rated as "above expectaction" and "meets expectations" by 67% and 32% of interns, respectively;

✔ Interns reported acquiring skills & benefits to academic trajectory, personal life and employment.

Examining a general audience’s perception of cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus in education programming: A pilot study (Ogle & Nelson, 2022)

A pilot study in JZAR analysed visitor perceptions of cheetah ambassador programmes:

 Preference for presentations showing the wildness of the animal (no preference for visible harnesses & containment structures);

 Use of interpretation with these programmes resulted in the visitors' increased perception of their education potential;

 Frequency of zoo visits also affected perceptions of these programmes.

Environmental Education in Zoos-Exploring the Impact of Guided Zoo Tours on Connection to Nature & Attitudes towards Species Conservation(Kleespies et al., 2022)

A new paper in JZBG looked into the effects of zoo tours on the visitors' connection to nature and attitudes towards conservation:

✔ Regular zoo tour, special themed tours & tours with animal feedings included in study;

 Increase in connection to nature & attitudes towards conservation for all tour types;

 Participans with a pre-existing high level of connection & attitudes also benefitted from the tours;

 Zoos can be efficient mediums for environmental education programmes.

Conservation Education Impacts of Animal Ambassadors in Zoos (Clifford-Clarke, Whitehouse-Tedd & Ellis,2021)

A study in JZBG investigated the visitor education impacts of controlled interactions with Humboldt penguin ambassadors:
Exhibit viewing resulted in increased mentioning of sustainable fish;
No evidence that animal ambassadors improved conservation education outcomes;
Zoo visitors showed increased specific conservation knowledge & intentions towards pro-environmental behaviours;
More research needed to understand & improve education impacts of animal ambassador programmes.

It’s Virtually Summer, Can the Zoo Come to You? Zoo Summer School Engagement in an Online Setting
(Cozens-Keeble et al., 2021)

A paper in JZBG investigated engagement in a zoo summer school programme delivered online:

235 participants, 46 activities;

Higher overall engagement in live rather than recorded sessions;

Content level in engagement was higher for activities;

Self-reported appreciation for nature was higher after Summer School;

Online zoo education programmes can be an effective way to engage and inspire the public.


Photo: Edinburgh Zoo

Investigating Visitor Activity on a Safari Drive
(Lloyd, Walsh & Johnson, 2021)

New study in JZBG measured the average speed of visitors as they drove through a safari park, in order to investigate their dwell times in different exhibits:

Average speed significantly differed between exhibits;

Slower speeds while driving through primate and felid exhibits;

Faster speeds in bovid and cervid exhibits;

Findings broadly similar with studies in traditional zoo settings (i.e. longer dwell times in primate exhibits);

Applications to safari park management.


Photo: Knowsley Safari

The Impact of Immersive Exhibit Design on Visitor Behaviour and Learning at Chester Zoo, UK
(Smart, Counsell & Quinnell, 2021)

A study in JZAR looked into the effects of "immersive" exhibits on visitor learning and engagement:
✔Visitor engagement & learning was compared between a "traditional", an "immersive" and an "intermediate" exhibit;
✔"Dwell time" higher in "traditional" enclosure BUT ⤵
✔Engagement with educational content was significantly higher in "immersive" exhibit than in the others;
✔Modest knowledge increases observed in "immersive" & "intermediate" exhibits but NO knowledge increase in the "traditional" one;
✔Attractive & engaging educational elements are important for zoo visitor education.


Photo: Chester Zoo (Credit: ITV)

Does an Animal–Visitor Interactive Experience Drive Conservation Action? (Collins, McKeown & O'Riordan, 2021)

A study in JZBG investigated the impact of an interactive experience with Sumatran tigers on zoo visitor learning:

✔Visitors helped making enrichment for tigers & observed them interacting with it;

✔Tiger welfare not compromised by activity likely enhanced;

✔Most visitors showed high knowledge & positive attitude towards tigers,

✔Only 8% of participants responded to email in follow-up study, but all of these recalled the activity & their pledge;

✔No control group for comparison but activity may have improved visitor knowledge & attitudes towards conservation.


Photo credit: Fota Wildlife Park

Exploring the Impact of Educational Quizzes and Stamp Collecting Trails on Zoo Visitor Learning and Exhibit Observation (Asari & Ikuta, 2021)

New paper in JZBG investigated the impact of educational activities (quizzes & stamp collection trails) on zoo visitor learning & exhibit observation:

✔Higher % of visitors involved in activities visited the target animals,

✔In some species, exhibit observations were higher for visitors involved in activities,

✔In some species, higher % of correct answers in visitors involved in the quiz game,

✔Quiz game was most effective at encouraging reading of information signs,

✔Both activities effectively guided the visitors & (especially quiz) have the potential to increase zoo education output.

Assessing the Impacts of Engaging with a Touch Table on Safari Park Visitors (Davies, Sowerby & Johnson, 2021)

A new study in JZBG investigated the impacts of a "touch table" on zoo visitor engagement:
✔Dwell times were higher when a member of staff was present, in colder seasons and in families;
✔Families & groups showed higher engagement;
✔Higher engagement associated with increased dwell times;
✔Locations used for touch tables also affected visitor response;
✔"Surface-level" conversations more common than "deeper-level" ones.

Animal-human two-shot images: Their out-of-context interpretation and the implications for zoo and conservation settings (Spooner & Stride, 2021)

New study in Zoo Biology investigated the zoo visitor interpretation of animal-human two-shot images:
✔Zoo-based images elicited the highest stated Willingness to Donate & stronger connections to the animals;
✔Images of uniformed keepers with animals did not significantly increase desire for pet ownership;
✔Potential misconceptions about animal welfare in zoos VS other settings - greater education efforts needed? ;
✔Two-shot images can be used by zoos to increase conservation support & donations with little detrimental effects.

Picturing donations: Do images influence conservation fundraising? (Salazar et al, 2021)

A new study in Plos One investigated the effects of signs with different images on zoo visitor donations to conservation:
✔Four different images were tested (same text): dolphins, ocean wildlife, children & people/"watching eyes";
✔>20,000 passed the donation box & a total € 952.40 collected;
✔No significant differences in mean donations found between conditions;
✔Visual frames used and the use of donation box (passive channel) may have influenced the results.

Education Is Entertainment? Zoo Science Communication on YouTube (Llewellyn & Rose, 2021)

A recent paper in JZBG evaluated the Youtube content of 20 zoos between 2016 and 2019:

✔Greater focus on entertainment than education-based content;

✔Uneven representation of taxonomic diversity;

✔Conservation-oriented content increasing over time;

✔Only 3% of most viewed/popular videos were conservation-related;

✔Engagement with large audiences but the educational content and the way its presented needs to be reviewed and refined.

Testing the Effect of Aquarium-Based Learning on Patron Acceptance of Evolutionary Theory (Tolman et al., 2021)

A study published in JZAR found that a significant number of individuals changed to a more positive view of the evolutionary theory after watching an aquarium-based live animal presentation. Even though the sample size was small and invites further research, these results provide more evidence of the role of zoos & aquariums in promoting science and educating the public.


Photo credit: Aquarium of Boise

Evaluating the effectiveness of live animal shows at delivering information to zoo audiences (Spooner et al., 2021)

Are live animal shows effective at educating zoo visitors? New research found:

✔Over 25% of visitors in a zoo attended a show;

✔Visitors showed significantly higher animal knowledge after the show;

✔Conservation action awareness increased, but weakly;

Trick-type behaviours caused confusion about natural adaptations;

✔Live animal shows have great potential, but should focus on natural behaviours & conservation action.


Photo credit: Flamingo Land Resort

The impact of in‐person and video‐recorded animal experiences on zoo visitors' cognition, affect, empathic concern, and conservation intent (Miller al., 2020).

A study in Zoo Biology compared the visitor response to watching an in-person polar bear training session, a video-recording of the same session, and an audio of the session with image of animal keeper (Control):

In-person experience: increased knowledge, empathy for wild bears, willingness to get involved in conservation & positive emotional experience;

✔This was not observed in the video experience;

✔Further evidence for importance of in-person zoo experiences.


Photo credit: Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo

Virtual Reality in the Zoo: A Qualitative Evaluation of a Stereoscopic Virtual Reality Video Encounter with Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) (Carter et al., 2020).

A study in JZAR evaluated visitor perceptions towards a 3D Virtual Reality experience at the zoo, featuring footage of little penguins feeding, food preparation and narration by zoo keepers:

✔Qualitative evaluation: cognitive immersion, emotional immersion, physical presence and social presence;

✔Generally, visitors had positive attitudes towards the VR experience;

✔Potential opportunities to improve visitor experience and education.


Photo credit: Melbourne Zoo

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