What 5,000 people learned at the zoo

Zoos and aquariums around the world attract more than 700 million visits every year. (Credit: Chris Smith/Flickr)

There’s new evidence that zoos and aquariums do more than just entertain us. The largest study of its kind suggests they also raise awareness of biodiversity and how to protect animals and their habitats.

The study involved 5,661 respondents at 26 zoos and aquariums in 19 countries. The findings appear in the journal Conservation Biology.

“Zoos and aquariums are in a unique position to contribute to the goal of raising understanding of biodiversity conservation. Indeed the majority have an institutional and, in some cases, legal commitment to public education,” says Eric Jensen from the University of Warwick’s sociology department.

“But because these establishments tend to be viewed as providers of entertainment by the public, it has been unclear to what extent zoos’ educational messages are effective and, as there has been no previous global evaluation of their impact, it has been impossible to assess their importance on this scale–until now.”

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The study found there was an increase in respondents demonstrating some positive evidence of biodiversity understanding from pre-visit (69.8%) to post-visit (75.1%). Researchers also found an increase in respondents who could identify something they could do to help protect biodiversity from pre-visit (50.5%) to post-visit (58.8%).

“For the first time, there is strong evidence that many people leave these attractions not just with greater awareness but also a better understanding of biodiversity and conservation,” adds Jensen.

“But the challenge for zoos and aquariums now is how to use these findings to directly improve the conservation of biodiversity, because it’s important to remember that an increase in knowledge does not necessarily lead to a change in behavior.

“The next equally important step should be to build on this knowledge to promote pro-conservation behaviour and social change.”

Source: University of Warwick