JOURNAL ARTICLE

Visitor interest in zoo animals and the implications for collection planning and zoo education programmes

Andrew Moss, Maggie Esson
Zoo Biology 2010, 29 (6): 715-31
20333734
As zoos have sought to further their conservation missions, they have become powerful providers of environmental education. Outside of "formal" education initiatives, such as those designed for school and other organized groups, or structured public talks programmes, much of the learning potential that the zoo has to offer is around the viewing of animals and the response of visitors to them. In this, zoo learning is a very personal construct, develops from the previous knowledge, and experiences and motivations of each individual. In this article, we make the assertion that learning potential, although difficult to quantify, is very much related to the attractiveness of animal species and the interest that visitors show in them. Using standard behaviorist measures of attraction and interest (the proportion of visitors that stop and for how long), we analyzed the relative interest in 40 zoo species held in a modern UK zoo and the variables that are significant in predicting that popularity. Further to this, the suggestion is made that the zoo collection planning process could use such information to make more informed decisions about which species should be housed for their educational value. Taxonomic grouping was found to be the most significant predictor of visitor interest--that is, visitors were far more interested in mammals than any other group--although body size (length), increasing animal activity and whether the species was the primary or "flagship" species in an exhibit or not, were all found to have a significant bearing on visitor interest.

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