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03 03/03/2014

Largest ever international study proves zoos and aquariums teach us about biodiversity

Visitors looking at Asian elephants - Chester Zoo

A new international study of zoos and aquariums shows that these family attractions do teach the public about the delicate balance between animal species and their habitats.

Chester Zoo’s Research Officer Andy Moss worked with sociologist Eric Jensen from the University of Warwick and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) on the largest study of its kind to assess if these facilities did achieve their public education goals.

More than 6,000 visitors to over 30 zoos and aquariums across the world took part in this landmark study. Participants filled out pre and post-visit surveys to evaluate their biodiversity understanding and knowledge of how to help protect biodiversity.

The study found there was an increase from pre-visit (69.8%) to post-visit (75.1%) in respondents demonstrating some positive evidence of biodiversity understanding.

Researchers also found an increase from pre-visit (50.5%) to post-visit (58.8%) in respondents who could identify something they could do individually to help protect biodiversity.

Mr Moss said:

“When people visit the zoo of course we want them to have a great day out and enjoy seeing the animals. But, as a charity that’s serious about conservation, we want it to be more than this. We don’t want people to see the likes of a Sumatran tiger and then go home and forget about it. We want to excite people about nature, connect people with wildlife, understand the real battles for survival that these critically endangered species face in the wild and make them want to do something about it.

“It’s really encouraging that these new findings show that visitors to zoos and aquariums are taking home some of those vitally important conservation messages. Previously we hoped they were doing that, but now we are much more certain.”

Co-author Dr Jensen added:

“This study offers the first large-scale international evidence that zoos and aquariums can effectively engage their visitors with biodiversity. This question of educational impact has loomed over zoos and aquariums for decades. Our findings indicate that zoos and aquariums are right to tout their potential as sites for engagement with wildlife.”

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