THE GREATEST THREATS TO ANIMAL SPECIES IN THE WILD – HABITAT LOSS, CLIMATE CHANGE, OVER-HARVESTING AND HUMAN-WILDLIFE CONFLICT – ARE EACH AFFECTED BY THE NEEDS AND DESIRES OF PEOPLE.
To address the decline in global biodiversity we must address these causes. To do so is to change modern societies and human behaviour. Achieving such transformation in society is an extraordinarily complex undertaking.
Alongside conservation organisations across the world, we use conservation education to raise awareness of the issues facing wildlife and how people can become involved to help tackle these issues. However, the assumption that increased knowledge will always drive changes in pro-environment behaviours in society is not necessarily so clear-cut.
Our social scientists work to explore the relationships between public knowledge of biodiversity issues, knowledge of conservation actions and the level of participation in those actions. Additionally, we seek to understand how zoos in particular affect these relationships.
Chester Zoo staff probed these links in the largest and most international study of zoo visitors ever conducted, with a sample size of 6,357 from 30 zoos in 19 countries.
Zoo visitors were surveyed with demographic questions, an open-ended question to test their understanding of biodiversity, and another to test their knowledge of conservation actions. We also asked whether the visitor had taken part in any of the conservation actions they had listed within the past month.
We found that several factors influence the knowledge of pro-conservation actions that could be carried out by individual visitors. But crucially, biodiversity understanding was only the sixth most influential factor that was shown to be significant.
Demographic factors, including age and level of education, held more influence. The strongest indicator of the level of knowledge of actions to conserve biodiversity was the region of origin of the visitor.
The outcomes of the study provide an important understanding of what exactly can drive people to become involved in pro-environment activities and how we might make a difference to behavioural changes in society.
Education efforts are extremely valuable, but alone may not be enough to drive the changes in our society that would be ideal to prevent extinction. Zoos and related institutions should use a wider range of approaches to encourage behaviour change, rather than relying solely in education.
Moss, A., Jensen, E. & Gusset, M. 2016. Probing the link between biodiversity-related knowledge and self-reported pro conservation behaviour in a global survey of zoo visitors, Conservation Letters, 0, 1-8.