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Zoo Education

Scientific Papers

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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.

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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.

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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

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