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Message received? Quantifying the impact of informal conservation education on adults visiting UK zoos

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Message received? Quantifying the impact
of informal conservation education on
adults visiting UK zoos
ANDREW BALMFORD, NIGEL LEADER-WILLIAMS,
GEORGINA M. MACE, ANDREA MANICA, OLIVIA
WALTER, CHRIS WEST, AND
ALEXANDRA ZIMMERMANN
INTRODUCTION
Humanity is growing ever more disconnected from wild places and wild
creatures (Gadgil 1993, Nabhan and St. Antoine 1993; Nabhan and Trimble
1994, Pyle 1993, 2003, Balmford 1999, Kahn and Kellert 2002). Over 50%
of people now live in towns and cities, and their numbers are rising by
160 000 daily (World Resources Institute 2000). With this in mind the
world’s zoos, with more than 600 million visitors each year (WAZA 2005),
have enormous potential to educate and inspire the public about conserva-
tion. Much is made of this role, in both reviews and policy statements on
the conservation significance of zoos (Tribe and Booth 2003, Miller et al.
2004, WAZA 2005). Yet there is evidence that some captive facilities pay
only limited attention to conservation education (Dunlap and Kellert 1995,
Evans 1997, Mazur and Clark 2000). Against this criticism, very few stud-
ies have so far attempted to quantify whether zoo visits change people’s
conservation-related knowledge, attitudes, or behavior, or whether such
impacts vary across zoos.
Most assessment of educational impacts to date has instead been non-
quantitative (for reviews, see Kellert and Dunlap 1989, Broad and Weiler
1998, Dierking et al. 2002; see Discussion for counter examples). Moreover,
CZoological Society of London 2007
Quantifying the impact of informal conservation education 121
rather than examining the effects of a zoo visit on people’s overall con-
servation knowledge or attitudes, research has usually focused either on
general natural history knowledge, or else on whether a visit specifically
changes people’s attitudes to zoos or knowledge of zoos’ role in conserva-
tion (Dierking et al. 2002). Likewise, much more work has looked at the
effects of particular (usually new) exhibits than at the impact of a zoo visit
in its entirety (Broad and Weiler 1998, Dierking et al. 2002). Last, few stud-
ies have examined the effects of general, informal education on the adult
visitor (Kellert and Dunlap 1989, Broad and Weiler 1998, Mazur and Clark
2000). As a result, we are left with remarkably few clear tests of whether
and, if so, how zoos change the knowledge, attitudes or behavior of those
600 million visitors.
Given the limited evidence to date on zoos’ conservation education
impacts, the Zoo Measures Working Group of the British and Irish
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) devised a questionnaire aimed
at quantifying the effects of informal education on adult visitors to UK zoos.
This focused on measuring various aspects of visitors’ knowledge about
conservation, their level of concern about conservation relative to other
issues, and their ability to suggest practical ways in which they could make
a difference to conservation. We gauged the impact of a single zoo visit on
these response variables by comparing the answers of visitors arriving at
a zoo with those of a roughly equal-sized but non-overlapping set of visi-
tors leaving the same zoo (see also Broad 1996, Giusti 1999, Spotte and
Clark 2004). We thereby avoided problems caused by differences between
zoo visitors and the general public, differences between visitors to differ-
ent zoos (see below), and any confounding effects of our post-visit sample
having been aware of the survey questions during their visit. To test the
power of our questionnaire, we also collected data on several aspects of
visitors’ backgrounds, as well as their general interest in wildlife, to see
whether these predicted variation in our response measures. This chapter
presents an overview of our findings from questioning 1340 adult visitors at
6 UK zoos (and, for comparison, one nature reserve) during the latter half
of 2003.
METHODS
Our survey
Visitors were surveyed at Bristol (365 people), Chester (64), Colchester (46),
London (194), and Paignton (411) zoos, Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens (47),
giving a total of 1127 zoo visitors. In addition, we also surveyed 213 visitors
Balmford et al.
122
to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Wetland Centre at Barn Elms, London.
Questionnaires were handed out by volunteers (at Bristol, Chester, London,
Paignton, and Barn Elms) or zoo staff (at Colchester and Thrigby Hall only),
but completed entirely by respondents. Respondents classified themselves
as ‘‘arriving” (mostly in the entrance queue, and 91.8% within 1 h of entry)
or as ‘‘departing” (mostly >3hand92.3%>2 h after entry). Care was taken
to ensure that no respondents completed more than one questionnaire;
respondents under 18 were excluded from analysis. On average, participa-
tion in the survey took 5–10 min, with volunteers or staff generally collect-
ing 40–100 completed questionnaires each per day, depending on visitor
numbers.
The questionnaire
The questions asked fell into four main groups (note that we also asked zoo
visitors a series of questions about their attitudes to zoos and zoos’ contri-
butions to conservation, but these are not analyzed here).
Background information
We asked visitors to tell us their age (<20, 20–39, 40–59 or 60 years);
their sex; whether or not they had received tertiary education; whether they
were UK nationals; and in order to assess their general interest in conserva-
tion and wildlife, whether they were members of any conservation-related
charities (ranging from the National Trust to Greenpeace), and whether they
had visited a zoo in the past.
Conservation knowledge
Respondents were asked to name any globally threatened species and any
threatened British species, and for each, to give one reason why it was threat-
ened. They were also asked to rank habitat loss, pollution, overhunting or
overharvesting, introduced species, and climate change in terms of their rel-
ative importance as threatening processes, both worldwide and in Britain;
and to rank three major habitat types (tropical forests, ice caps, and fresh-
water) in terms of their global threat status. Answers were assessed as cor-
rect or not using information from the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2003) and the
UK Biodiversity Action Plan (Joint Nature Conservation Committee 2004),
and with ‘‘species” interpreted loosely (so that ‘‘whale” and ‘‘elephant” were
scored as correct answers to the question on globally threatened species,
for example). Respondents were then awarded marks out of 20, with equal
weight given to globally threatened ‘‘species,” British threatened ‘‘species,”
global threats, British threats, and threatened habitats. As well as being
Quantifying the impact of informal conservation education 123
treated as a response variable, this conservation knowledge score was also
analyzed as a potential predictor of our remaining response variables.
Concern about conservation
We quantified respondents’ relative concern about conservation through
three questions about how they would allocate £1000 of locally raised
money among competing charities. When asked to give it all away to char-
ity, how much would they assign to conservation versus health, domestic
social concerns, international aid, and animal welfare? If they had to give
all the money to conservation, how much would they assign to international
versus national or local conservation projects? And last, if they had to give it
all to conservation, how much would they allocate to habitat- versus species-
oriented conservation? Hypothetical willingness-to-pay surveys are often
criticized as shedding little light on real-world patterns of spending (e.g., see
discussion in Kramer and Mercer 1997). However, it is worth noting that, in
our sample, respondents’ overall contribution to conservation versus other
good causes was around 50% higher among those who were already mem-
bers of conservation charities than among other visitors (means ±SEs of
£167.39 ±£5.70 vs. £229.93 ±£6.62; Mann-Whitney test: W=79 985,
N=1127 zoo visitors, P<0.001). Moreover, our questions explicitly incor-
porated some of the tradeoffs that people face in donating to good causes.
We therefore suggest that they do capture meaningful information on
people’s relative concern about conservation.
Ability to name useful activities
While it was not possible during such a large, short-term survey to directly
assess visitors’ conservation-related behavior (see Adelman et al. 2000), we
were able to ask visitors to name something which they could do to help
conserve species or habitats. In scoring their answers, we scored as 0 all
passive or very general suggestions (such as ‘‘learn more” or ‘‘be green”),
but scored as 1 active suggestions such as ‘‘join a conservation organiza-
tion,” ‘‘recycle,” or ‘‘use public transport.” This scoring system is simple,
but does reveal considerable variation in people’s potential to engage in
conservation-related behavior (see below).
Analysis
Following some general analyses of respondents’ answers and of how these
varied across the seven locations we surveyed, we conducted progressively
more sophisticated tests of the effects of a visit. First, for each of our
five response variables (conservation knowledge, spend on conservation,
Balmford et al.
124
spend on habitat, international spend, and ability to name a useful activ-
ity) and for each of our six zoos, and for comparison the one nature reserve,
we used simple univariate statistics to see whether visitors’ answers dif-
fered between arrival and departure (non-parametric statistics were used
to account for the non-normality of the data). We next built generalized
linear models (GLMs) for each response variable and each site to test for
such differences, this time controlling for other significant predictors of
our response variables; these models used a quasi-binomial error struc-
ture to account for the nature of our response variables, which could all
be expressed as a given score out of a hypothetical maximum value. Finally,
after considering the potential limitations of our sample sizes at any single
site, we built generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs with a quasi-
binomial error structure; Venables and Ripley 2002), which used the data
for all zoos combined to identify statistically significant predictors of each
of our response measures; note that for this final, pooled set of analyses we
excluded non-zoo data.
RESULTS
Overview of responses
The visitors we surveyed differed widely in their scores for the different
response variables. The mean conservation knowledge score among all zoo
visitors was 9.26 ±0.23 out of 20. The most common answers when
respondents were asked to name globally threatened species were, per-
haps predictably, all large mammals, with one interesting exception: the
cod (Table 9.1). Fewer zoo visitors could correctly name a threatened British
species (51.4% vs 85.4%), but in this case the species they did name were
more varied, with the top 10 including several birds, as well as cod and newt
(Table 9.1). Although respondents were free to name any species, plants
were named in only 0.1% of all (global or UK) answers.
Out of £1000, zoo visitors’ mean hypothetical allocation to conservation
was £180.32 ±£16.82, substantially higher than the means of £111 and £149
obtained in two separate 2003 surveys which asked the same question not
of zoo visitors but of the general British public (A. Beaumont, S. McInnes,
R. van Millingen, and K. Vinnicombe, pers. comm.); our sampled visitors
are thus generally more concerned about conservation than the public as a
whole (see also Giusti 1999, Adelman et al. 2000). Mean spend on interna-
tional rather than national or local conservation was £246.23 ±£18.35 out of
£1000, while the mean allocation to habitat-based rather than species-based
conservation was £538.99 ±£14.53 out of £1000.
Quantifying the impact of informal conservation education 125
Table 9.1
The 10 most common answers when 1127 zoo visitors were asked to name globally
threatened species and threatened British species, and the percentage of correct responses
naming each ‘‘species.” Note that badgers are not threatened in Britain
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Globally threatened species % Threatened British species %
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Tiger 28.17 Red squirrel 25.79
Giant panda 20.68 Otter 8.50
Rhino 13.39 Badger 6.58
Gorilla 8.09 Bat 5.08
Lion 4.90 Water vole 4.12
Elephant 4.70 Sparrow 4.12
Whale 4.00 Eagle 3.43
Cod 2.00 Cod 3.02
Orangutan 1.70 Newt 3.16
Chimpanzee 0.80 Barn owl 2.88
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
On average 45.7% ±2.8% of zoo visitors named an active way in which
they could make a practical contribution to conservation. The most com-
mon suggestion – giving money to a conservation organization – accounted
for 52.8% of responses. Other common responses were recycling (14.4%),
environmentally sensitive shopping (9.1%), raising awareness among chil-
dren or adults (8.7%), wildlife-friendly gardening (8.7%), and giving time
to conservation organizations (8.3%). Notably, reducing car use, reducing
domestic energy use, and voting strategically or writing to politicians each
accounted for less than 2% of responses, suggesting that few respondents
see these activities as having a direct bearing on conservation.
Not surprisingly, we found that all of our response variables were inter-
correlated with each other, although not very strongly (Table 9.2). Respon-
dents with higher scores for conservation knowledge typically allocated
more money to conservation generally and to international and habitat con-
servation in particular. Those who assigned more money as a whole to
conservation usually wanted a greater share of it to be spent abroad and
on habitats rather than single species. Those visitors able to suggest how
they could make a difference to conservation on average had 16% higher
knowledge scores and allocated 8%, 41%, and 7% more money to conserva-
tion as a whole, to international conservation, and to habitat conservation
respectively, than did those unable to suggest practical activities (Table 9.2).
One last striking general feature of our dataset was that participants’
answers differed widely across locations (Figure 9.1). Scores for conser-
vation knowledge were particularly high among visitors to Thrigby, and
lowest at Chester and Paignton zoos (but visitors at Barn Elms reserve
Table 9.2
Relationships among our response variables. The left-hand part of the table gives Spearman rank correlation coefficients between our continuous
response variables (N=1127, zoo visitors; ∗∗∗ P<0.001;P<0.05). The right-hand part of the table shows how the mean scores for these variables
vary with respondents’ ability to name a useful conservation action they could undertake (Pvalues are for Mann-Whitney tests; N=611 and 516
respectively)
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Correlation with allocation to conservation Comparison of those unable vs able to
(/£1000) name useful action
........................................................................................................................ ...................................................................................................................................
Overall International Habitat Unable mean Able mean Pvalue
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Conservation 0.070.16∗∗∗ 0.12∗∗∗ 9.38 10.84 <0.001
knowledge (/20)
Allocation to Overall 0.070.07173.76 187.64 <0.001
conservation International – 0.20∗∗∗ 205.68 290.59 <0.001
(/£1000) Habitat 520.48 559.02 0.019
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Quantifying the impact of informal conservation education 127
0
100
200
300
Overall
0
100
200
300
400
International
0
100
200
300
Habitat
8
10
12
Conservation
knowledge (/20)
Bristol Colchester Paignton Barn Elms
Chester London Thri
g
by
Allocation to conservation (/£1000)
0
0.5
1
Ability to name useful
action
Figure 9.1 Variation in our response variables across sites. Bars show means ±
SEs. In each case there was highly significant variation in scores across sites
(Kruskal–Wallis tests: all P<0.001)
Balmford et al.
128
outperformed visitors to any of the zoos). Hypothetical allocations to con-
servation were highest at Barn Elms, but also high at Chester. The allocation
of conservation money internationally was greatest at London Zoo, where
the proportion of visitors surveyed who were not UK nationals was sub-
stantially higher (at 14.0%) than elsewhere (mean across the five other zoos:
1.4%; χ2=73.78, df =1, P<0.001). The relative allocation to habitat rather
than species conservation was quite similar across the six zoos, but higher
at Barn Elms. Respondents’ ability to name useful activities they could do
was highest at London, and lowest at Paignton (with respondents at Barn
Elms scoring much higher than visitors to any of the zoos). These clear
differences in the profiles of visitors to different institutions underline the
necessity, in comparing the impacts of different zoos, to rely not on simple
exit surveys, but instead to look at within-zoo differences between arriving
and departing visitors.
Visit effects – univariate comparisons
Despite looking at five response variables at seven sites, simple univari-
ate comparisons revealed just one difference between respondents entering
and leaving our study sites. We found no differences, at any site, between
arriving and departing knowledge scores, hypothetical spend on conserva-
tion, spend on habitat, or international conservation spend (Mann–Whitney
tests, all NS). The only significant difference to emerge was in terms of
respondents’ ability to name practical contributions which they could make,
for which Paignton visitors scored roughly twice as highly on departure as
on arrival (0.48 ±0.03 vs 0.28 ±0.03, W=17 336.5, N=411, P<0.001).
However, this result was not observed elsewhere (NS for other six sites).
Moreover, taken overall, Paignton respondents had by far the lowest aver-
age scores for this response variable (Figure 9.1). Both this and the recorded
increase in these scores on departure could have been an artifact of Paignton
visitors apparently being in a greater hurry to complete the questionnaires
on entry than on exit (M. Ebbage-Taylor, pers. comm.).
Generalized linear models
GLMs built to predict variation in each of our response variables at each
of our sites showed that this failure to identify significant differences in
responses between arriving and departing visitors was not simply because
our data were too noisy, or because of confounding effects of other variables.
We were able to find significant predictors of one or more of our response
variables at every site, and of all variables at Barn Elms and at the best sam-
pled zoo, Paignton (Table 9.3). Moreover, these predictors had generally
Table 9.3
Significant terms in the generalized linear models for each of our response variables at each of our sites. Cells show only those terms significant at P<0.1.
∗∗∗P<0.001; ∗∗ P<0.01; P<0.05; italics =P<0.1
.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Conservation Allocation to conservation (/£1000) Ability to name useful...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Site Nknowledge (/20) Overall International Habitat action (0 or 1)
.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Bristol 365 SexCharity member∗∗ Conservation knowledge Sex∗∗ Conservation knowledge
Charity member∗∗∗ Conservation knowledge Charity member∗∗
Conservation knowledge
Chester 64 Charity member Charity member ––Conservation knowledge
Colchester 46 Charity member – Conservation
knowledge
––
Visited zoo before
London 194 Tertiary educationConservation knowledge ––
Paignton 411 Age∗∗ AgeTertiary education∗∗∗ AgeConservation knowledge∗∗∗
Tertiary
education∗∗
Charity member Conservation
knowledge
Sex Visited zoo before∗∗
Charity member∗∗ Conservation knowledgeArrival vs departure∗∗∗
Visited zoo before
Thrigby 47 Charity member∗∗ Charity member∗∗ Tertiary educationConservation knowledge
.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Barn Elms 213 AgeCharity memberTertiary educationSexConservation knowledge∗∗∗
Charity member∗∗ Visited zoo before Conservation knowledgeVisited zoo before
.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Balmford et al.
130
consistent effects across sites and across response variables. For example,
respondents who had received tertiary education had higher knowledge
scores (at two sites), and assigned more money to international conservation
(two sites), and habitat conservation (one site) than other respondents, inde-
pendently of the effects of other significant predictors. Likewise, there were
independent positive effects of charity membership on knowledge score
(four sites), and on money assigned to conservation in general (three sites)
and habitat-based conservation in particular (one site). Individuals with
higher knowledge scores allocated more to general conservation (one site),
international conservation (two sites), and habitat conservation (one site),
and were more likely to name a useful activity (three sites). Last, we found
some positive associations between having visited a zoo before and knowl-
edge score, allocation to international conservation, and ability to name a
useful action (one site each) – but these could reflect a general interest in
wildlife, rather than being an effect of site visits per se.
The only strong test of the effect of visits which these data allow is
the comparison of arriving and departing visitors. As with the univari-
ate analyses, the only significant effect detected in the GLMs was on the
ability of Paignton visitors to name useful conservation-related activities.
Thus despite controlling statistically for the effects of many potentially
confounding variables, we could find no strong and consistent signal,
within individual sites, of informal education of adults during a single
visit.
However, this could still conceivably arise because of undersampling.
Some indication of the sensitivity of our findings to sample size is given by
a plot of number of significant effects detected for a site (summed across
the GLMs of all five response variables) against the number of people inter-
viewed there (Figure 9.2): detecting five or more significant effects required
a sample of at least 300 people. With this result in mind, we therefore built
generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs), which pooled data for all zoos
into a single set of analyses (these analyses exclude Barn Elms data because
we were most interested in the effects of visiting a zoo).
Generalized linear mixed models
The minimal GLMMs we derived echoed the GLMs (Table 9.4). Combin-
ing data across all six zoos, we found positive effects of tertiary education on
knowledge and allocation to international education; of charity membership
on knowledge, general conservation allocation, and ability to name a use-
ful activity; of conservation knowledge on each of the other four response
Quantifying the impact of informal conservation education 131
0
4
8
12
0 50 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450
Sample size
No. of effects in GLMs
Figure 9.2 The total number of significant effects detected in the five GLMs for
a site (from Table 9.3) plotted against the number of respondents interviewed at
that site (rs=0.74, P=0.054)
variables; and of a previous zoo visit on knowledge and allocation to habitat
conservation. However, whether visitors were interviewed on arrival or
departure entered only one GLMM: that for ability to name a conservation-
related activity (which was due entirely to the potentially questionable effect
detected at Paignton Zoo). No interaction terms were significant in any
GLMM either, so it was not the case that genuine single-visit effects were
masked because they held only for first-time zoo visitors, or for less knowl-
edgeable visitors, for example.
Moreover, for these analyses our failure to detect a visit’s effect on four
out of five response variables was not due to a lack of statistical power.
We tested the power of our GLMMs by Monte Carlo simulations, which
involved generating artificial differences between entering and exiting vis-
itors and seeing how big these needed to be in order to enter each of our
minimal GLMMs (at P<0.05). Arrival vs departure would have entered
the models in 90% of 1000 iterations (i.e., with power set to 0.9) even
if it affected knowledge score by as little as 0.39 (out of 20), or alloca-
tion to overall conservation, international conservation, or habitat conser-
vation, respectively, by as little as £5.26, £6.09 or £13.41 (out of £1000).
We can thus conclude that the effect of a single visit on these response
variables is at most 5%, 4%, 4%, and 3% of their respective intercept values
(Table 9.4).
Table 9.4
The minimal generalized linear mixed models for each of our response variables. Cells show coefficients for all predictors significant at P<0.05
(together with 95% confidence limits); italicized terms are significant only at P<0.1 and are not considered further. ∗∗∗P<0.001; ∗∗ P<0.01;
P<0.05; ()=P<0.1; NS =not significant. The bottom row gives the smallest effect size for arriving vs departing visitors which entered each final
GLMM (at P<0.05) in 90% of 1000 simulations, expressed as a percentage of the intercept value
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Allocation to conservation (/£1000)
Response variable: Conservation ............................................................................................................................................................... Ability to name useful
Predictor: knowledge (/20) Overall International Habitat action (0 or 1)
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Intercept 7.86
(7.45;8.26)
131.57
(117.39;147.18)
152.25
(129.65;178.00)
447.13
(418.58;476.02)
0.22
(0.18;0.27)
Age (four categories) 0.71∗∗
(0.23;1.17)
NS NS NS NS
Sex (male vs female) 0.42
(0.00;0.84)
NS NS 38.18
(2.00;77.53)
NS
Tertiary education (yes vs no) 0.79∗∗∗
(0.34;1.23)
NS 54.32∗∗∗
(27.52;86.82)
23.29 ()
(6.28;51.41)
NS
Charity member (yes vs no) 1.36∗∗∗
(0.84;1.88)
40.14∗∗∗
(15.65;69.21)
NS NS 0.06∗∗
(0.00;0.12)
Conservation knowledge (/20) 3.10
(0.84;6.83)
6.18∗∗∗
(2.61;9.74)
5.36
(1.30;9.46)
0.02∗∗∗
(0.01;0.03)
Visited zoo before (yes vs no) 0.55
(0.01;1.14)
NS NS 41.32∗∗
(13.43;67.45)
NS
Arrival vs departure NS NS NS NS 0.07∗∗
(0.03;0.13)
Minimum effect size detectable 5% 4% 4% 3%
..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Quantifying the impact of informal conservation education 133
DISCUSSION
We found very little evidence, in the zoos we sampled, of any measurable
effect of a single informal visit on adults’ conservation knowledge, concern,
or ability to do something useful. We also found no effect of a single visit to
Barn Elms reserve, though this could be partly explained by the generally
high score of all visitors here, for nearly all response variables (Figure 9.1).
The only effect of a single visit that we did detect was restricted to one
response variable at just one zoo, and this might have been an artifact of
differences in the time which arriving and departing visitors spent com-
pleting our questionnaire (M. Ebbage-Taylor, pers. comm.).
These results are at first rather surprising. However, we do not believe
that they are due to problems in the questions we asked or in the use of
volunteers to administer the questionnaires, or to any shortage of statistical
power. To our knowledge this is the largest survey of its kind conducted
to date. Moreover, despite the survey’s inevitable limitations, it was able to
detect many other, intuitively sensible predictors of our response variables
(Tables 9.3 and 9.4). Last, formal power analysis suggests that the overall
effects of a single visit, pooled across zoos, must be slight or non-existent
to have gone undetected given our sample size and analytical framework.
Our findings are less surprising when seen in the context of the hand-
ful of other studies to have pursued these questions. For instance, Kellert
and Dunlap (1989), comparing arriving and departing visitors at three US
zoos, found that a visit increased wildlife interest at one zoo but increased
‘‘dominionistic” attitudes to conservation at another, and, if anything, led
to a general decrease in wildlife knowledge. Working at Jersey Zoo, Broad
(1996) found departing visitors knew better than arriving visitors which of
the species exhibited there were threatened, but in follow-up phone calls
7–15 months later, 80% reported that the visit had not influenced them
in any way. L. Lach (pers. comm.) reported that a single visit to Franklin
Park Zoo, Boston increased pro-conservation attitudes but did not change
the likelihood of visitors donating money to conservation. Adelman et al.
(2000) found that visitors leaving the National Aquarium in Baltimore had
a more focused and broader understanding of conservation, but were no
more concerned or likely to change their behavior than on arrival. Last, sur-
veys conducted at the American Museum of Natural History’s state-of-the-
art Biodiversity Hall could detect only weak impacts on visitors’ knowledge
or ability to do something practical about conservation (Giusti 1999).
A potential counterargument to these observations is that informal edu-
cation does have effects, but that these either take time or repeated visits to
Balmford et al.
134
manifest themselves. However, measuring long-term effects of individual
visits is difficult, as any messages received at a zoo will become increas-
ingly overlaid with other, more recent messages. Moreover, the few studies
to have conducted follow-up interviews have found the immediate effects of
a zoo visit generally wane over time (L. Lach, pers. comm.; Adelman et al.
2000). Measuring the effect of repeated zoo visits is even harder, as the fre-
quency of zoo visiting is likely to co-vary strongly with a general interest in
wildlife, making it impossible to establish causality. Last, it is worth noting
recent evidence that concern and knowledge about another environmental
issue, climate change, can be altered, more or less immediately, by a single,
dramatic experience – in this case, seeing the disaster film The day after
tomorrow (Balmford et al. 2004, which uses the same survey design as this
chapter).
Our results, and others like them, clearly do not mean that zoos do not or
cannot educate or inspire their public about conservation. After all, expect-
ing adults (who may already be disproportionately concerned about conser-
vation issues) to further absorb conservation messages informally during a
general zoo visit may be unrealistic, especially as they are often preoccupied
with looking after young children. It may instead be the case that educa-
tional effects are more likely where adults are exposed to intense, focused
experiences, via keeper talks or animal shows (Yerke and Burns 1991, cited
in Kreger and Mench 1995; Ollason 1993, Kreger and Mench 1995, Broad
1996, Miller et al. 2004), or through visits to exhibits which have been
explicitly designed to convey conservation messages, such as New York’s
Congo (Chapter 5), or Zurich’s Masoala Rainforest (Chapter 14). Likewise,
our data say nothing about the impacts of informal or indeed formal zoo
education on two, arguably more important, zoo audiences – children, and
either adults or children in developing countries (where most biodiversity
occurs, yet where rapid urbanization means that the public are becoming
increasingly isolated from wild nature).
However, in all these cases, we see a clear need for more data of the
kind collected here, involving rigorous quantitative comparisons of large
numbers of visitors before and after their zoo experience. To date such data
remain patchy, yet without them we are unable to make a convincing case
for the conservation education role of zoos, or to identify best practice and
so improve zoo performance in this crucially important enterprise.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We are extremely grateful to staff at Bristol, Chester, Colchester, London,
Paignton, Thrigby, and Barn Elms for hosting and helping us; to Lizzie
Quantifying the impact of informal conservation education 135
Coleman, May Ebbage-Taylor, Ben Feetham, Kat Harrington, Nadine
McCarthy, Emilia O’Carroll, Amanda Simeoni, and Michelle Simeoni for
collecting data; and to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and
Aquariums (BIAZA) and Miranda Stevenson for both inspiration and co-
ordination. We thank Lori Lach for access to unpublished data, and the
organizers of the Catalysts for Conservation symposium for inviting us to
present our work, which was supported by the Zoological Society of London.
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... It has been shown that direct experiences of natural environments, especially in children, are important in shaping future attitudes towards the natural world (Van den Born., et al., 2013), proven by studies which show the success of environmental education relating to knowledge retention and changed behaviours (Damerell, et al., 2013;Erhabor and Don, 2016;Balestri., et al, 2017). Therefore, with more than 600 million visitors per annum (WAZA, 2005), zoos are in a critical position for providing educational opportunities to the public (Balmford, et al., 2007), reflected within the mission statements for many facilities (Patrick, et al., 2007). Providing information on species and their retrospective habitats has the opportunity to provide education of conservation and biodiversity in a non-formal setting (AZA, 2004;Patrick, et al., 2007), whereas a more direct approach can be tailored by means of species specific keeper talks or experience opportunities (Kreger & Mench, 1995;Broad, 1996, Miller, et al., 2004. ...
... However, evidence suggests that limited attention is directed towards conservation education in the case of some facilities, despite many valid opportunities available (Dunlap & Kellert, 1995;Evans, 1997;Mazur & Clark, 2000) and few studies have investigated effects of general informal education in a zoological setting (Broad & Weiler, 1998;Mazur & Clark, 2000). Consequently, research from establishments that do participate in conservation education has been inherently biased towards qualitative analysis of perceptions and opinions (Balmford, et al., 2007;Damerell., et al., 2013). ...
... It was previously suggested that education is more effective when the audience is exposed to direct learning experiences, such as keeper talks or animal shows (Kreger & Mench, 1995;Broad, 1996, Miller, et al., 2004, as expressed within this study. As with previous studies (Balmford, et al., 2007), little evidence was found to support the effectiveness of indirect learning from informational signage within enclosures. ...
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... Studies have shown that the average level of interest for biological conservation among the public increases after visiting a zoo (Derwin and Piper 1988;Swanagan 2000). However, Balmford et al. (2007) argue than a single visit to a zoo may not have an effect on knowledge. Nevertheless, seeing animals up-close, particularly elusive species such as the wolverine, while receiving accurate information about that animal's biology and ecological role, makes zoos a good place to inform the public and positively influence public opinion (Reade and Waran 1996;Falk et al. 2007;Clayton et al. 2009). ...
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