Zoo Education

Scientific Papers

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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)

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

The influence of animal welfare accreditation programmes on zoo visitor perceptions of the welfare of zoo animals (Warsaw & Sayers, 2020)

August 12, 2020

Abstract: In recent years, formal accreditation programmes based upon contemporary animal welfare science have been developed to assess animal welfare within zoos. Animal welfare is an important responsibility for any zoo, but does accreditation provide everyday zoo visitors with assurance about the welfare of the animals they encounter? To answer this question, a survey of visitors to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand was conducted. Survey participants were asked to respond to a variety of animal welfare scenarios involving zoo animals. Scenarios were designed using the Five Domains Model which the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) use to develop criteria for accreditation standards. Results show animal welfare accreditation programmes assured survey participants about the welfare of animals in the zoo. While this is affirming for those zoos participating in accreditation programmes, the research also found that survey participants were not aware of zoo accreditation programmes. As animal welfare is a core tenet of the social license to operate any zoo, the principal recommendation of this study is for both zoos and accrediting organisations to significantly increase marketing and communication of their accreditation programmes to their communities.

Photo credit: Wellington Zoo

Evaluating an in-school zoo education programme: an analysis of attitudes and learning (Counsell et la., 2020)

May 12, 2020

Abstract: In 2020 the Convention on Biological Diversity will deliver the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
The promotion of conservation and biodiversity knowledge will form at least one of the targets set
out in this framework. According to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) zoos and aquariums receive around 700 million annual visits, making them well placed to contribute towards these targets. The scope of the field of zoo and aquarium education research has greatly increased over recent years demonstrating the educational value of visits. This study evaluated the impact of an in-school repeat-engagement zoo education programme provided by the Safari Rangers of Chester Zoo, UK. A pre- and post-programme survey design was used to measure conservation understanding, knowledge of pro-conservation behaviours and conservation attitudes. In total, 445 students from seven participating schools were surveyed. The results show an increase in both conservation understanding and in knowledge of pro-conservation behaviour between the pre- and post-programme surveys.
Participating students showed an aggregate increase of 60.5% in their conservation understanding, and a 24% increase in their knowledge of pro-conservation behaviours. Those surveyed also demonstrated a positive change in attitude towards conservation self-efficacy. This study demonstrates that repeat-engagement in-school zoo-education programmes can successfully deliver desired learning outcomes, adding to the body of evidence that demonstrates the valuable role that zoos can play in raising the level of conservation knowledge amongst school-aged children. 


Photo credit: Chester Zoo

Ethical considerations when conservation research involves people (Brittain et al., 2020)

March 11, 2020

Abstract: Social science is becoming increasingly important in conservation, with more studies involving methodologies that collect data from and about people. Conservation science is a normative and applied discipline designed to support and inform management and practice. Poor research practice risks harming participants, researchers, and can leave negative legacies. Often, those at the forefront of field‐based research are early‐career researchers, many of whom enter their first research experience ill‐prepared for the ethical conundrums they may face. Here, we draw on our own experiences as early‐career researchers to illuminate how ethical challenges arise during conservation research that involves human participants. Specifically, we discuss ethical review procedures, conflicts of values, and power relations, and provide broad recommendations on how to navigate ethical challenges when they arise during research. We encourage greater engagement with ethical review processes and highlight the pressing need to develop ethical guidelines for conservation research that involves human participants.

Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

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

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