The nature conservation education of zoos aims at not only teaching visitors about animals and nature conservation but also at changing attitudes and everyday practices. However, zoos still count too much on the fact that the mere viewing of animals and info boards on animal species is enough to convince the visitors of the necessity and means of nature conservation.
A recent literature review on zoo conservation education and an interview study at Helsinki Zoo in Finland indicate that the conservation education of zoos relies too much on an expert–driven model where visitors are relegated to the role of learning from experts’ conservation projects and donating money to them.
Another problem is what zoos actually teach visitors about the relationship between humans and other animals: that humans control other species. This is not the best starting point for generating empathy and changing everyday practices.
Modern zoos strive to be places for nature conservation and conservation education. Every year, millions of visitors visit zoos worldwide, most of whom are interested in animals and nature to begin with. However, the current 6th wave of extinction and the critical situation with climate change would require stronger investment in the effectiveness of conservation education.
“Credible conservation education in zoos should tie the exhibited animals and the everyday practices of visitors more strongly together. More practical information should be given on how e.g. everyday diet choices, energy consumption and modes of transport contribute to the loss of biodiversity and climate change.” says researcher Nina V. Nygren from the University of Tampere.
In addition, active learning methods – for example those already familiar from museum education – could be applied along with placing more emphasis on the emotions animals arouse in people.
Nygren, N. V., & Ojalammi, S. (2018). Conservation education in zoos: a literature review. TRACE∴ Finnish Journal for Human-Animal Studies, 4.
Ojalammi, S., & Nygren, N. V. (2018). Visitor Perceptions of Nature Conservation at Helsinki Zoo. Anthrozoös, 31(2), 233-246.
Note: Open Access for some weeks. You can also ask for the original article from the authors.
For more information, please contact:
Researcher, University Lecturer Nina V. Nygren
tel.+358-(0)40 563 6472, nina.nygren ( a ) uta.fi
School of Management, University of Tampere