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Scientific Papers

Zoo Education

Threat or treat for tourism organizations? The Copenhagen Zoo social media storm (Rydén et al., 2020)

January 29, 2020

Abstract: Social media have emerged as a game changer for tourism by empowering consumers to collectively approve or oppose organizational behaviors. When consumers rise against organizations, social media storms (SMSs) can be an outcome. This research proposes a conceptual framework to help tourism organizations understand SMSs and to guide more effective decision making. Contextualized by a case study of the Copenhagen Zoo, it is shown how and why SMSs are an expression of negative consumer empowerment that brings challenges as well as opportunities. As demonstrated, an SMS can lead to a helix for value creation for the organization, consumers, and society.

Photo credit: Copenhagen Zoo

Assessing the effect of zoo exhibit design on visitor engagement and attitudes towards conservation (Moss & Pavitt, 2019)

November 18, 2019

Abstract: Modern zoos claims to be a platform for conservation education and zoos attempt to educate visitors using textual interpretation, public talks and engaging exhibit design. Walk-through exhibits aim to maximise the educational potential of a zoo visit by providing a unique, immersive experience that can enhance visitor connection with a species. This study assesses visitor engagement with walk-through zoo exhibits in comparison to traditional exhibits, and explores the role that educators and volunteers play in encouraging visitor engagement. Covert visitor observations were used to quantify dwell times and categorise conversational data at different exhibits. Species at walk-through exhibits elicited more comments related to surface level and deeper level information when compared to species at traditional exhibits (p<0.001). Similarly, a higher number of surface level and deeper level comments were made when a visitor had engaged with a zoo ranger or volunteer (p<0.001). Dwell times were over six times longer at walk-through exhibits; higher dwell times were significantly related to higher numbers of surface level comments (R2 =0.433) and deeper level comments (R2 =0.361). By conducting visitor surveys pre- visit and post-visit to a walk through exhibit, we found some significant changes in visitor attitudes towards pro-conservation themes, but little evidence that visitors had learned something new from the exhibit. Overall, walk-through exhibits that utilise educators or volunteers can enhance visitor engagement with a species, although further research into additional interventions is necessary to determine how this engagement may develop into pro-conservation knowledge and actions.

Photo credit: Chester Zoo

When zoo visitors “connect” with a zoo animal, what does that mean? (Howell et al., 2019)

September 18, 2019

Abstract: Connection with a zoo animal may increase conservation‐mindedness in zoo visitors, potentially resulting in conservation‐oriented behavior change. No research has attempted to establish what this “connection” actually means. Visitors (N = 85) to Melbourne Zoo were asked to name the animal with which they most connected, the extent to which they connected with it, and to qualitatively describe what it meant to connect with that animal. Many (but not all) participants connected with charismatic megafauna: primate, great ape, large carnivore, or large herbivore. Qualitative analysis revealed five common themes in the meaning of connection: Appreciation, Attribution, Inspires Emotions, Interaction, and Proximity. Overall connection level was significantly correlated with perceptions of conservation caring for the chosen species. Future research should aim to determine what factors affect a zoo visitor's connection level, which could impact attitudes and behaviors toward conservation.

Photo credit: Oregon Zoo

What Is the Zoo Experience? How Zoos Impact a Visitor’s Behaviors, Perceptions, and Conservation Efforts (Godinez & Fernandez, 2019)

August 22, 2019

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

Examining the Impact of Naturalistic and Unnaturalistic Environmental Enrichment on Visitor Perception of Naturalness, Animal Welfare, and Conservation (Razal & Miller, 2019)

May 18, 2019

Abstract: Recent research shows that using different types of enrichment has little to no impact on how zoo visitors perceive the animals or the enclosure in general. The primary objective of the current research was to examine if viewing naturalistic-looking environmental enrichment (NEE) and unnaturalistic-looking environmental enrichment (UEE) has an effect on visitor perceptions of exhibit naturalness, animal welfare, and conservation, while controlling for two factors that can influence visitor perspective: animal visibility and behavior. Study 1 examined the color of enrichment: the NEE was colored to resemble a rock and the UEE was fluorescent pink. Four conditions were recorded: Naturalistic/No Animal, Naturalistic/Animal, Unnaturalistic/No Animal, and Unnaturalistic/Animal. One video was shown to 306 randomly selected visitors who then took a survey including questions on animal welfare, exhibit naturalness, and supporting conservation organizations. Naturalistic/No Animal was perceived by visitors to be the most natural environment and the best of the exhibits for an animal to live in. Study 2 examined different types of NEE and UEE. Eight photos (four with an animal and four without) showing one out of four enrichment items (naturalistic rock, wood wool bedding, traffic cone, cardboard box) were shown to 618 randomly selected visitors who then took a survey similar to study 1. Visitors rated the photos with the NEE consistently higher for questions regarding the naturalness of the exhibit, good animal welfare, and the livability of the environment. Visitors were also asked to rank the four enrichment items from best to worst, and the NEEs were ranked significantly higher than the UEEs. While there are still many unanswered questions regarding visitor perceptions of environmental enrichment in zoos, we hope that focusing on one variant such as color and examining different types of NEE and UEE can help guide future studies on this subject.

Photo credit: Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo

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