With over 700 million visitors a year, zoos have become the ideal place to deliver a conservation message. However, the educational value of zoos has received little evidential support. By evaluating the educational impact of immersive exhibits through characterising visitor behaviour and identifying potential influences on this behaviour, we aimed to measure the effectiveness of Chester Zoo in engaging the public on conservation issues.
Visitors were asked to complete questionnaires before and after visiting the exhibits at two immersive enclosures (Realm of the Red Ape and African Painted Dogs) to assess their species knowledge and ways to protect them in the wild. Conversations were observed and levels of engagement with the exhibit recorded. Although the surveys indicated no educational benefits to immersive enclosures, the activity levels of the animals, visitor age and accompanying group influenced visitor conversations and engagement.
When compared to groups with young children, young adults and elderly couples engaged in more complex conversation regarding species conservation. Increased activity levels in the animals also increased exhibit dwell time, indicating that visitors are more likely to engage with an exhibit if the animals are displaying more active behaviours.
Here, we demonstrate the difficulty in evaluating educational impact in a zoo environment as the same resource can have differing effects on the variety of people that visit. This study helps to build a body of support to show zoos have educational value for engaging the public on conservation.