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The global reach of zoos and aquariums in visitor numbers and conservation expenditures

  • Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture

Abstract and Figures

A survey conducted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, in collaboration with national and regional zoo and aquarium associations, showed that annually more than 700 million people visit zoos and aquariums worldwide and are thus potentially exposed to environmental education. Furthermore, the world zoo and aquarium community reportedly spends about US$ 350 million on wildlife conservation each year. Therefore, the world zoo and aquarium community has the potential to play an important role in both environmental education and wildlife conservation. Systematic reviews are encouraged to provide further evidence for the effectiveness of zoos and aquariums as centers of education and conservation.
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Zoo Biology 30 : 566– 569 (2011)
The Global Reach of Zoos and
Aquariums in Visitor Numbers and
Conservation Expenditures
Markus Gusset
and Gerald Dick
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) Executive Office, Gland,
A survey conducted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, in
collaboration with national and regional zoo and aquarium associations, showed
that annually more than 700 million people visit zoos and aquariums worldwide
and are thus potentially exposed to environmental education. Furthermore, the
world zoo and aquarium community reportedly spends about US$350million on
wildlife conservation each year. Therefore, the world zoo and aquarium community
has the potential to play an important role in both environmental education and
wildlife conservation. Systematic reviews are encouraged to provide further
evidence for the effectiveness of zoos and aquariums as centers of education and
conservation. Zoo Biol 30:566–569, 2011. c2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Keywords: aquarium; conservation; education; funding; visitor; WAZA; zoo
Modern zoos and aquariums increasingly see themselves as centers of
education and conservation [Miller et al., 2004], as stipulated in the revised World
Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy [WAZA, 2005]. There is in fact a dual
mission of many zoos and aquariums to be leaders in both education and
conservation [Patrick et al., 2007]. As for example with the Congo Gorilla Forest
exhibit at Bronx Zoo or the Masoala Rainforest exhibit at Zurich Zoo, education
Published online 6 December 2010 in Wiley Online Library (
DOI 10.1002/zoo.20369
Received 7 June 2010; Revised 29 July 2010; Accepted 25 October 2010
Correspondence to: Markus Gusset, World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) Executive Office,
IUCN Conservation Centre, Rue Mauverney 28, 1196 Gland, Switzerland. E-mail:
2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
and conservation increasingly complement and reinforce each other [Rabb and
Saunders, 2005; Fraser and Wharton, 2007]; both are contingent upon people being
exposed to and spending money on such initiatives.
However, as the last global survey was performed nearly 20 years ago
[IUDZG/CBSG, 1993], there is no up-to-date estimate available of the number of
people who are potentially exposed to environmental education, whether formal or
informal, at zoos and aquariums. Davey [2007] showed that regional zoo and
aquarium attendance may indeed vary over time. Furthermore, we entirely lack an
estimate of the financial expenditures of the world zoo and aquarium community on
wildlife conservation. We thus sought to obtain current figures on the global reach of
zoos and aquariums in visitor numbers and conservation expenditures.
We approached 12 national and regional zoo and aquarium associations,
covering all regions of the world, to provide a figure regarding the following two
questions: How many visitors did your member institutions receive in 2008? How
much money was spent on wildlife conservation by your member institutions in
2008? (Wildlife conservation in this context encompasses in situ conservation of wild
species and habitats, including related ex situ work). Although all 12 associations
submitted figures on visitor numbers that they sought to obtain from their more than
1000 members, only seven associations submitted figures on conservation
About 600 million people reportedly visited zoos and aquariums worldwide in
2008. When comparing zoo and aquarium attendance between the last global survey
in 1990 and 2008 (Table 1), those associations reporting higher numbers in the
current survey represent regions with established documenting structures (North
America, Australasia, and Europe), suggestive of a growing number of visits in these
regions [cf. Davey, 2007]. Conversely, those associations reporting lower numbers in
the current survey represent regions where obtaining comprehensive numbers is
more challenging (Latin America, Africa, and Asia). Although the current survey
was specifically aimed at collecting documented figures from the associations’
TABLE 1. Annual Number of Visits to Zoos and Aquariums Worldwide in 1990 [IUDZG/
CBSG, 1993], 2008 (This Survey), and Adjusted (in Millions of People)
1990 2008 Adjusted
North America 106 186 186
Latin America 61 11 61
Africa 15 8 15
Australasia 6 17 17
Europe 125 142 142
Asia 308 221 308
Global total 621 585 729
1990 figures for Latin America, Africa, and Asia. 2008 figures for North America,
Australasia, and Europe.
567Visitor Numbers and Conservation Expenditures
Zoo Biology
members, which generally proved feasible for the former three regions, the previous
survey [IUDZG/CBSG, 1993] relied on the associations’ estimates of zoo and
aquarium attendance. This may be more appropriate for the latter three regions,
given the underestimates in documented figures confirmed by those associations in
the current survey. Considering this variation in reporting between the two surveys
and assuming a largely unchanged number of existing zoos and aquariums, it seems
legitimate to adjust the results accordingly (Table 1), in which case zoos and
aquariums worldwide receive more than 700 million visits annually. This figure,
which may include multiple individual visits, is most certainly an underestimate
[WAZA, 2009] and is unparalleled by any other group of conservation-oriented
The world zoo and aquarium community reportedly spent about US$350 mil-
lion on wildlife conservation in 2008. This amount includes the expenses of zoo-
based conservation organizations, but given that only about half of the associations
submitted figures on conservation expenditures (see above), it is most certainly an
underestimate. Across regions, zoos and aquariums in North America and Europe
spent the most by far on wildlife conservation (97% of expenses reported). In
relation to major international conservation organizations (Fig. 1), the world zoo
and aquarium community is among the main providers of conservation funding.
The large number of visitors received and amount of conservation money spent
suggest that the world zoo and aquarium community has the potential to play an
important role in both environmental education and wildlife conservation
[for examples, see Zimmermann et al., 2007; Dick and Gusset, 2010]. However, it
remains largely unclear how education initiatives affect visitor behavior [Ogden and
Heimlich, 2009] and how financial expenditures influence conservation efforts
Fig. 1. Amount of money spent on wildlife conservation by major international conservation
organizations (figures taken from annual reports) and the world zoo and aquarium
community (this survey) in 2008 (in thousands of US$).
568 Gusset and Dick
Zoo Biology
[Ferraro and Pattanayak, 2006]. Regarding the latter, Gusset and Dick [2010]
showed that increasing support provided by zoos and aquariums, particularly
financial, indeed leads to a significantly higher overall impact of a conservation
project. Systematic reviews [Pullin and Stewart, 2006] are encouraged to provide
further evidence for the effectiveness of zoos and aquariums as centers of education
and conservation.
EAZA, JAZA, PAAZAB, SAZARC, SEAZA, and ZAA for providing figures on
visitor numbers and conservation expenditures. Laura Penn and three anonymous
referees kindly provided helpful comments on this paper.
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economic and time factors on worldwide zoo
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Ferraro PJ, Pattanayak SK. 2006. Money for
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Fraser J, Wharton D. 2007. The future of zoos: a new
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Wildt D, Kleiman D, Monfort S, Rabinowitz A,
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569Visitor Numbers and Conservation Expenditures
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... This recognises the current bias towards large mammals and considers it a legitimate and potentially highly effective conservation strategy, owing to their ability to act as flagship species (Hutchins and Wemmer 1991;Leader-Williams and Dublin 2000). The global zoo and aquarium community spends approximately $350 million annually on in situ wildlife conservation activities and represents the third largest conservation organisation contributor globally (Gusset and Dick 2011). Although the majority of institutions contribute less than 5% of their operating income to in situ conservation activities, these contributions significantly impact global wildlife conservation efforts, with greater funding from ex situ institutions showing a positive relationship with in situ project success and viability (Bettinger and Quinn 2000;Gusset and Dick 2010;Mace et al. 2007). ...
... Modern zoos contribute to the recovery and conservation of threatened species through ex situ breeding within institutions (Conde et al. 2011) and through substantial contributions to in situ conservation projects in natural habitats (Gusset and Dick 2011). In order to fulfil their multiple roles, zoo collections must attract recreational visitors (Turley 1999) and perceived visitor preferences have fuelled the belief that large vertebrates, particularly mammals, are necessary in order to attract visitors (Martin et al. 2014). ...
... These multiple roles can place competing demands on the composition of zoo collections as public preferences do not always align with conservation priorities. Collectively, the global zoo and aquarium community attracts more than 700 million visitors every year and invests more than $350 million in wildlife conservation in situ, representing the third largest conservation organisation contributor globally (Gusset and Dick 2011). These in situ conservation activities are primarily funded by paying visitors, in conjunction with other sources, and the popularity of institutional collections (in terms of the species within the collection) is positively correlated with attendance . ...
Despite the best efforts of conservation practitioners global biodiversity is continuing to decline. The role of zoos and aquariums in conserving global biodiversity ex situ has become increasingly important as more species become threatened with extinction. As ex situconservation resources are limited, evidence-based decision making is required to identify, and prioritise, the management actions necessary to increase the potential of ex situ conservation efforts. The efficacy of ex situ conservation efforts is currently hindered by 1) entrenched taxonomic biases in collection planning and the prioritisation of large, charismatic vertebrates, 2) the unsustainability of ex situ populations due to limited space availability and management practices, and 3) limited considerations of the potential for ex situ collections to conserve and reintroduce genetic variation into populations using biological samples and advanced reproductive technologies. In this thesis I explore the multifaceted contribution of ex situ collections to global biodiversity conservation. I focus on the importance of standardised, globally shared ex situ records, and their potential to inform collection planning, population sustainability and genetic conservation decision-making.
... Humans have a longstanding interest in wild and exotic animals [1], as evidenced by the 700 million people who visit zoos around the world every year [2]. Given this, and in contrast to most animals housed in other captive settings, the lives of zoo animals are defined by regular exposure to large numbers of unfamiliar humans (i.e. ...
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In zoos, primates experience markedly different interactions with familiar humans, such as the zookeepers who care for them, compared with those with unfamiliar humans, such as the large volume of zoo visitors to whom they are regularly exposed. While the behaviour of zoo-housed primates in the presence of unfamiliar, and to a lesser extent familiar, humans has received considerable attention, if and how they spontaneously distinguish familiar from unfamiliar people, and the cognitive mechanisms underlying the relationships they form with familiar and unfamiliar humans, remain poorly understood. Using a dot-probe paradigm, we assessed whether primates (chimpanzees and gorillas) show an attentional bias toward the faces of familiar humans, with whom the apes presumably had a positive relationship. Contrary to our predictions, all subjects showed a significant attentional bias toward unfamiliar people's faces compared with familiar people's faces when the faces showed a neutral expression, both with and without a surgical face mask on, but no significant attentional bias when the faces showed a surprised expression. These results demonstrate that apes can spontaneously categorize humans based on familiarity and we argue that the attentional biases the apes showed for unfamiliar human faces reflect a novelty effect.
... The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) stated in its annual report for 2017 that its members were visited by 140 million visitors [27]. Globally, it is estimated that there are more than 700 million visits annually and that zoos spend $350 million on conservation projects [28]. However, it must be noted that the number of visitors does not provide any direct information about the general education output [29] and many visitors do not only come to the zoo to learn [25]. ...
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In recent decades, zoos have been increasingly transformed into education centers with the goal of raising awareness about environmental issues and providing environmental education. Probably the simplest and most widespread environmental education program in the zoo is the guided tour. This study therefore aims to test whether a one hour zoo tour has an influence on the participants’ connection to nature and attitude towards species conservation. For this purpose, 269 people who had voluntarily registered for a zoo tour were surveyed before and after the tour. In addition to the regular zoo tour, special themed tours and tours with animal feedings were included. The results show a positive increase in connection to nature and a strengthening of positive attitudes towards species conservation for all tour types. For nature connectedness, in particular, people with an initial high connection to nature benefitted from the special themed tours and the tours, including animal feedings. For attitudes towards species conservation, no difference was found between the tour types. The results prove the positive influence of a very simple environmental education program, even for people with a preexisting high level of connection to nature and positive attitude towards species conservation.
Zoos strive to create experiences that inspire positive feelings toward animals which lead to conservation behaviors in their visitors. However, concerns regarding the welfare of animals living in zoos present a challenge in creating positive zoo experiences and promoting the conservation agenda and moral authority of these cultural institutions. This research explores connections between zoo visitors’ positive affective responses and their assessments of animal welfare before and after two giraffes were introduced to a group of four giraffes in a multi-species savannah exhibit. A self administered questionnaire was completed by 499 visitors to the Conservation Society of California’s Oakland Zoo. The questionnaire measured visitors’ predispositions, affective responses, and assessments of animal welfare. Results suggest that visitors’ assessments of animal welfare, positive affective experience, and predisposition are positively correlated. Further, visitor assessments of animal welfare are generally more positive after the addition of new giraffes. Although visitors tended to report that the giraffes were very healthy and well cared for, they responded less positively when asked about how happy the giraffes were and how adequately sized their exhibit was. The findings suggest that understanding and improving zoo visitors’ assessments of animal welfare is important in improving positive experiences and conservation education outcomes during a visit to the zoo.
Cognitive enrichment is a growing subset of environmental enrichment for captive animals. However, it has been difficult for practitioners to design, implement, and evaluate relevant and appropriate cognitive challenges. Even though pure comparative cognition researchers focus on fundamental evolutionary questions, their knowledge and expertise can also shape the future of cognitive enrichment. This paper describes the motive, means, and opportunity to do so. Taxon-specific summaries of animal cognition (including inter-individual variation in skill and effects of motivation), and experimental designs (including the task itself, training, and reward) need to be accessible to practitioners in applied settings, such as farms, zoos, and sanctuaries. Furthermore, I invite pure researchers to directly evaluate their cognitive research program as enrichment and thus bridge the disciplines of animal cognition and welfare.
A fundamental objective of modern zoos is promoting pro-environmental behaviors. This study experimentally assessed the contribution of zoo rangers (staff employed to engage visitors) in delivering a behavior change campaign promoting sustainable palm oil use. The campaign was delivered in a dedicated area in a walk-through animal exhibit, with rangers either "present" or "absent" in the campaign space. Questionnaires assessing awareness, knowledge, and purchasing intentions were completed by 1032 visitors. Two analyses were conducted: (1) comparing the impact of ranger presence versus absence (to assess the overall impact of having rangers present regardless of whether they talked to visitors) and (2) comparing the impact of talking to a ranger against demographically matched individuals visiting when rangers were absent (to assess the specific impact of talking to a ranger). Visitors who talked to rangers were more aware of palm oil, had more knowledge, and greater intentions of purchasing sustainable palm oil. However, as only one-quarter of visitors talked to a ranger, fewer differences were found comparing ranger presence versus absence. These findings suggest that rangers can be instrumental in communicating complex conservation issues and delivering zoo-based behavior change campaigns, but their impact is limited by low engagement rates.
Communicating the topic of conservation to the public and encouraging proenvironmental behaviors can mitigate loss of biodiversity. Thus, the evaluation of educational efforts is important to ascertain the educational effects and provide high-quality conservation education. The learning outcomes of conservation education are diverse (e.g., attitudes, knowledge, and behavior). Considering the specific characteristics of these different outcomes and the factors that influence them is crucial to delivering successful conservation education. We reviewed 29 peer-reviewed articles published in English from January 2011 to April 2020 on empirical studies of learning outcomes of on-site conservation education in zoos and aquaria, institutions that seek to educate the public about conservation. We examined the range of learning outcomes, their definitions, and factors that influenced them. Cognitive outcomes were most frequently investigated (37%) in comparison with other outcomes (e.g., affective outcomes, 31%). The articles did not use explicit definitions for learning outcomes, and implicit or explorative definitions provided were inconsistent. Outcomes were influenced by various factors (e.g., prior experiences, staff interaction, animal behavior). Our results suggest the agenda of conservation education research should be broadened by examining all learning outcomes relevant to behavior change. Educational and behavior change theories should be used as a background for conservation education research to ensure clear and consistent definitions, derive appropriate instruments to measure learning outcomes, and relate learning outcomes to influencing factors. We recommend conservation education researchers and practitioners to treat conservation education holistically and acknowledge its learning outcomes' full complexity.
Zoos and aquariums, from beginnings 2500 years ago as imperial menageries, are economically important, professionalized institutions that publicly display the zoological spectrum from tiny invertebrates to charismatic mega-vertebrates. Modern zoos and aquariums are committed to wildlife conservation and conservation education. These facilities are regulated by government agencies, earn and maintain public trust regarding animal care and welfare, seek to sustain genetically diverse and demographically varied populations of hundreds of species, and help address conservation and animal welfare crises in the wild. As wild biodiversity declines or is negatively impacted by increasing human populations, zoos and aquariums are called upon to serve as refuges and to engage their visitors in slowing or reversing these global trends. Zoos and aquariums play an important role in developing techniques for ex situ breeding and husbandry, animal welfare, global wildlife disease monitoring and response, and intensive and/or small population management – science that is increasingly important for biodiversity management.
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In this study, the authors examine the mission statements of 136 zoos in the United States that the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) has accredited, and report on the predominant themes of education and conservation in the statements. To explore the relation between these two themes, the authors present a literature review of the roles and purposes of zoos and discuss how the literature compares with the roles and purposes of zoos as found in the zoo mission statements. They conclude that with more than 134 million visitors a year, zoos are in a unique position to provide environmental education and conservation education to large numbers of people.
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The success of zoos and aquariums as conservation centres depends on the holistic embrace of conservation, including acting as model citizen, wildlife conservationist, agent for conservation and mentor/trainer. Success also depends on truly reaching our audiences, from policy-maker to land manager to citizen, to help them care about and care for nature. In pursuing our conservation goal, we must acknowledge our general lack of experience in effectively changing the behaviour of these different audiences, which function at both the global and local level. To start with those closest to us, the visitors to our institutions, we should appreciate that we do not have deep understanding of the effect our business has on them by providing close-up experiences with a variety of animals. Nevertheless, by the caring ways in which we express biophilia and carry out particular conservation activities, our institutions can become transformative models, inspiring and motivating urban people around the globe to have a more harmonious and sustainable relationship with the natural world.
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In light of the United Nations declaring 2010 as the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’, we carried out an audit of in situ conservation projects supported by the world zoo and aquarium community. The results of our questionnaire survey show that the 113 evaluated projects are helping to improve the conservation status of high-profile threatened species and habitats in biodiversity-rich regions of the world. Our results show that thanks to the investment made by zoos and aquariums, particularly financial, these projects reached overall impact scores of a magnitude suggestive of an appreciable contribution to global biodiversity conservation. The present first global appraisal of the contribution of the world zoo and aquarium community to in situ conservation from a supported project's perspective thus suggests that zoos and aquariums are on track for ‘Building a Future for Wildlife’, as stipulated in the revised World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy of 2005. However, zoos and aquariums could make an even stronger contribution by allocating more resources to in situ conservation, which – as our results show – would significantly increase the projects' conservation impact. Increased pooling of resources among zoological institutions thus appears to be advisable.
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The field of conservation policy must adopt state-of-the-art program evaluation methods to determine what works, and when, if we are to stem the global decline of biodiversity and improve the effectiveness of conservation investments.
Collection-based institutions—zoos, aquariums, museums, and botanical gardens—exhibit wildlife and thus have a special connection with nature. Many of these institutions emphasize a mission of conserva- tion, and, undeniably, they do contribute directly to conservation education and conservation science. They present an exceptional opportunity for many urban residents to see the wonders of life, and they can contribute to education and habitat preservation. Because many collection-based institutions now hold a stated mission of conservation, we suggest eight potential questions to evaluate actions toward that mission: (1) Does conserva- tion thought define policy decisions? (2) Is there sufficient organizational funding for conservation activities? (3) Is there a functional conservation department? (4) Does the institution advocate for conservation? (5) Do conservation education programs effectively target children and adults? (6) Does the institution contribute directly to habitat protection locally and internationally? (7) Do exhibits explain and promote conservation efforts? and (8) Do internal policies and activities protect the environment? These questions are offered as a place to begin discussion. We hope they will help employees and administrators of a collection-based institution (and citizens of the surrounding community) think about and support their institution's conservation activ- ities. Public support and praise for institutions that are striving toward solutions for conservation problems and pressure on organizations that are moving more slowly toward a conservation orientation can help shift more resources toward saving nature.
Abstract Over the last 30 years, the international zoo movement has gradually adopted conservation as its mantra. World-class zoos have invested substantially in species conservation and animal research as part of their involvement in wildlife conservation. However, zoo exhibit interpretation, policy development, and strategic planning are yet to be organized around a well-developed agenda with a clear set of conservation objectives. As museums increasingly redefine their role in society to speak about alternative futures for living with nature, zoos have the potential to become much more focused cultural change agents, potentially crafting a new vision for how society can live in a productive relationship with the world's remaining biodiversity. This article argues for an activist approach in which institutions with living collections would take on unique conservation tasks including scientifically grounded promotion of conservation values.
Attendance figures are an indicator of the popularity of zoos in society, and also reveal the levels of funding available because entrance fees and other revenues generated during visits are the main sources of funding for British zoos. However, the literature provides conflicting information on zoo attendance, and existing reports are also limited by their research designs and lack of international perspective. Therefore, it is difficult to judge how popular zoos really are, and hence there is a need for a detailed analysis of zoo attendance. To deal with this, the present article reports an analysis of worldwide zoo-attendance patterns using a large data set provided by the International Zoo Yearbook. The data show that attendance has generally declined in most world regions during the 40 year period, and was particularly marked during the 1960s and 1970s. There have been recent increases at North American and British zoos since the 1980s. More people visit zoos in Japan and the United States, and attendance patterns during the past 40 years have followed different paths in different world regions and countries. Attendance figures for zoos around the world were compared with several socio-economic variables, and the analysis revealed a positive significant relationship between a country's population size, country income and zoo-attendance figures.