Scientific Papers

Zoo Education

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

Young Scientists Discovering Food Web: An IBSE (Inquiry Based Science Education) Activity at Zoo Delle Maitine (Benevento, Italy) (Rizzelli & Pagliarulo, 2019)

March 09, 2019

Abstract: The IBSE approach in the study of science allows pupils to formulate themselves the questions to which they need to find an answer. Is a highly stimulating approach that was used in an Educational Activity about food web at the Zoo. Starting from the observation of living creatures (from insects to reptiles and small mammals as well) and then posing themselves questions, kids were stimulated to find answers and to hypothesize conjectures. The success, calculated by questionnaires, both between kids and teachers, and checking every five minutes the attention of students, was great and the lesson about food web in nature was, for sure, learned. A total of 480 students participated in the activities; 69 teachers were present and questioned at the end of activities: 25 had the IBSE lab, 44 the non IBSE. Opinions about both activities, IBSE and NON IBSE, were generally good but the activity conducted with the IBSE method scored a higher value so the IBSE method was a great success.

Photo: Zoo delle Maitine 

Evaluating the impacts of theatre-based wildlife and conservation education at the zoo (Spooner et al. 2019)

February 25, 2019

Abstract: The experience of visiting a zoo as a child can be remembered decades later and potentially influences future environmental attitudes. In light of steadily growing criticism of the ethics and value of live animal shows, some zoos are seeking alternative means of delivering ‘edutainment’ to a broad audience. One such alternative is through theatre. We examine whether a family-orientated zoo theatre performance achieved animal knowledge and conservation awareness impacts. Impact was demonstrated if individuals correctly stated more animal and conservation facts post-performance compared to pre-performance. The theatre production was seen to have a very strong positive effect on both children’s (pre-performance s.d.=1.69, post-performance s.d.=1.79 effect size (d)=0.70, w = 4403.5, p ≤ 0.001) and adults’ (pre-performance s.d.=1.88, post-performance s.d.=2.14, effect size (d)=0.71, w = 1931.5, p ≤ 0.001) learning. Significantly more correct answers were given post-performance compared to pre-performance. We conclude that educational, family theatre can effectively deliver animal information and raise awareness of conservation efforts within a leisure setting. Further studies are needed to investigate the impact of theatre on conservation actions. Comparative studies between live animal shows and theatre could establish the best methods for conveying conservation information to zoo visitors.

Photo: Flamingo Land

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