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The balance zoos must strike between education, conservation and entertainment

The balance zoos must strike between education, conservation and entertainment

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Dayle Johnston. Originally submitted for Zoology and society at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Nicola Marples in the category of Life Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Dayle Johnston. Originally submitted for Zoology and society at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Nicola Marples in the category of Life Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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The balance zoos must strike between education, conservation and entertainment Abstract Zoos were originally established

as entertainment centres but they now have important additional roles in education and conservation. Zoos contribute to the conservation of the world‟s biodiversity by using captive breeding to maintain genetically viable populations. They have successfully saved the European Bison (Bison bonasus), the Przewalski‟s Horse (Equus prewalskii), the golden lion tamarin, (Leontopithecus rosalia rosalia), the blackfooted ferret (Mustela nigripes) and the Arabian oryx, (Oryx leucoryx), from extinction due to their captive breeding programmes. A major role of the zoo is to educate the public about the animals they display and their conservation. Zoos use a variety of methods to educate their visitors. In order to attract visitors to the zoo and acquire capital for their conservation and education programmes, zoos provide entertainment for their visitors. Therefore, zoos have an important balancing act to achieve. They have a vital role in conservation. They need to educate people about endangered animals in order to enhance the conservation of these animals. Finally they must entertain the public in order to generate revenue for their conservation work and enhance conservation learning by making it enjoyable. Introduction Zoos have changed their values over the years. The first emperor of Chou dynasty founded one of the earliest known zoos 3000 years ago. It was arranged as a cultural and educational display and known as an intelligence park (Jarvis, 1967). However, for a large part of their history, zoos have been depicted as menageries which were designed by nobles to amuse their subjects. The only real contribution to science that they made was the establishment of the Zoological Society of London in 1826 (Pinder and Barkham, 1978). It has been relatively recently that zoos have taken to breeding sufficient numbers of individuals of endangered species in their collections in order to make it possible for their reintroduction into the wild (Pinder and Barkham, 1978). Now, in the 21st century, modern zoos play an important role in contributing to the survival of the species they display, in educating the public, and in maintaining their animals in excellent physiological and physical health (Hutchins and Smith, 2003). Zoos now balance their traditional role of entertainment with conservation and education.

Conservation Conservation is defined as “the securing of long-term populations of species in natural ecosystems and habitats wherever possible” in the World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy (WAZA, 2005). For zoos, securing animals in populations maintained by captive breeding is the starting point in this conservation objective (Dickie, 2009). Species are disappearing at a rapid rate and so in order to avoid the loss of many species, conservationists have to use all the possible resources available. Captive breeding is one of these resources which are especially necessary to save these species that are at high risk as they occupy highly fragmented and disturbed habitats (Mallinson, 1995). Captive breeding by zoos and reintroduction is analogous to Noah‟s ark. The species that are threatened to become extinct are maintained in captivity as if they were in Noah‟s ark escaping a flood. When the factors threatening their existence are gone the animals can then be reintroduced into the wild (Bowkett, 2008). The conservation strategy of captive breeding gained wild-spread recognition from conservationists and the general public by the early 1990‟s. The World Conservation Union policy statement provided a clear mandate on captive breeding (IUCN, 1987). North American breeding programmes, Species Survival Plans (SSPs) and European Endangered Species Programmes (EEPs) were developed in the 1980s and grew in the number of both species and participants throughout the 1990‟s (Knowles, 2003). Zoos then began to play a key role in conservation by maintaining populations of species threatened with extinction ex situ (Bowkett, 2008) .This role was formalised by the first World Zoo Conservation Strategy. Its main aim was to conserve areas of disappearing wildlife and biodiversity (IUDZG/CBSG, 1993). After this, many recommendations for captive breeding emerged. The IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) recommended hundreds of taxa for captive breeding through a series of Global Captive Action Recommendations (Bowkett, 2008). However, at the start of this century, the support for captive breeding as a conservation strategy by zoos has waned. This is due to the recognition of the limitations of captive breeding such as the difficulty in establishing self sustaining captive populations, the poor success with reintroductions and the high costs associated with captive breeding (Snyder, et al.1996). These limitations can be seen when one compares the coverage of population

management in the first World Zoo Conservation Strategy (IUDZG/CBSG, 1993) and the second World Zoo Conservation Strategy (WAZA, 2005). The first conservation strategy only mentions reintroduction as the conservation responsibility of zoos while the second conservation strategy outlines a broader role for zoos including monitoring, research and educational programmes (Bowkett, 2008). It is now necessary for zoos to focus on balancing their education role with their conservation role. However, despite the limitations of captive breeding, it is widely assumed that captive breeding for reintroduction is a useful and necessary conservation strategy. (Bowkett, 2008). Zoos can maintain viable breeding stocks of species that are likely to go extinct in the wild. The Pere David‟s Deer (Elaphurus davudianus), Ne-Ne Goose (Branta sandvicensis) and Przewalski‟s Horse (Equus prewalskii) are some well known examples of animals that owe their existence to captive breeding (Wayre, 1969). Figure 1 shows the Przewalski‟s Horse, which was bred successfully in captivity, being released to the Gobi B National Park, Mongolia, in summer 2004 (WAZA, 2005).

Figure 1. Captive bred Przewalski‟s mares (Equus przewalskii) being released to the Gobi B National Park, Mongolia, in summer 2004 (WAZA, 2005).

The existence of the European Bison (Bison bonasus) in the wild is entirely due to specimens bred in captivity being released into the wild. All the European Bison were slaughtered during World War 1. Captive bred animals were used to re-establish the herd but they were again wiped out in the Second World War. In 1956, captive bred European bison were released in Bialowieza Forest and these founded the present herd that lives there (Wayre, 1969). The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) was suspected of being extinct due to their main prey, the prairie dog, being extensively poisoned, but was discovered again in Wyoming. However, an outbreak of canine distemper reduced the population to six individuals that were taken into captivity and six that remained in the wild (May, 1986). Later, all the remaining wild black-footed ferrets were brought into captivity as they were at a high risk of extinction. The captive breeding turned out to be very successful at saving the animals from extinction as by 1988, 58 ferrets were living in captivity at the Wildlife Research and Conservation Education Centre in Wyoming (May, 1989). The golden lion tamarin, (Leontopithecus rosalia rosalia), is one animal that zoos have been very effective in conserving and developing projects for its reintroduction into the wild. The captive population of the golden lion tamarins in zoos started from a founder population of only 44 individuals ((Kleiman, et al. 1986) cited in (Russo, 2009)). There are currently 500 golden lion tamarins housed at 150 zoos worldwide. The populations‟ genetic diversity is maintained by managing which tamarins breed together by the stud-book keeper who bases the choice on research on the mean kinship, the inbreeding co-efficient and the mean relatedness between an individual and a population. The tamarin captive breeding programme was established in the early 1960s after a population crash of wild golden lion tamarins in Brazil. Tamarins from captive breeding programmes were reintroduced into the Brazilian forests and augmented wild populations. The wild population has now grown so the tamarins in captivity are not being released but are being kept genetically robust in case a catastrophe strikes the wild population (Russo, 2009). The story of the Arabian oryx, Oryx leucoryx, highlights another conservation success for zoos. It was the first example of an animal that was extinct in the wild being successfully reintroduced back into the wild. Operation oryx was launched in April 1962 by the Fauna Preservation Society. They established a breeding herd in Phoenix Zoo in Arizona. This resulted in ten Arabian oryx being reintroduced back into the wild in the open desert in Oman

in January 1982 where they are once again being guarded in the Jidda al Harasis by the Harasis tribe (Fitter, 1982). Captive breeding has saved the Californian condor from extinction by rounding up the last individuals of the species and breeding them in San Diego and Los Angeles zoos (Kunzig, 2008). These successes show that zoos can save animals from extinction by captive breeding programmes. Zoos can now further their roles in conservation due to an increase in assisted-reproduction technologies. Zoos can now transfer gametes instead of animals between zoos (Bainbridge and Jabbour, 1998) and can store genetic material for long periods of time (Zhang and Rawson, 2007). Education Education orientated on the animals displayed in zoos is important as there is a large necessity for an understanding of an animal‟s behaviour in order to breed them successfully in captivity. For example, the polar bear (Thalarctos maritimus), shown in figure 2, needs a heated enclosure that provides it with security and solitude (Wemmer, 1974). Several species require a specific social grouping to be maintained when they are kept in captivity. The white rhinoceros, (ceratotherium simum), needs to reside in a herd and several carnivores such as the cheetah (acinonyx jubatus), need to be kept in separate sex groups apart from mating time ((Manton, 1975) cited in (Pinder and Barkham, 1978)).

Figure 2. A polar bear with its cub. (National Geographic Society, 2010) Zoos have a major function in educating the public. According to WAZA, „„the educational role is to interpret living collections to attract, inspire and enable people from all walks of life to act positively for conservation.‟‟ (WAZA, 2005). Conservation education programmes are extremely beneficial if they can inspire the public to change their behaviour in such a way as to benefit wildlife and their habitats. World class zoos employ professional educators to create a conservation-education programme that educates and informs visitors in an entertaining way that compels them to take conservation action (Hutchins and Smith, 2003).

The importance of the zoo as an educational centre can be envisioned as they are visited by millions of school children every year. The children arrive at zoos in groups in order to gain firsthand experience of the animals and be taught by the educators that are employed by the zoo. The children are able to support what they learn in class in their schools and they can use worksheets to look more closely at the animals and structure their experiences of the animals in their enclosures. Many zoos also provide educational materials such as background material for teachers and older students in order to facilitate the planning and structure of the

zoo visit (Andersen, 2003). The Los Angeles Zoo hosts approximately 250 000 school pupils and their teachers each year (Turkowski, 1972). Zoos have the opportunity to personally reach out to the public (Tompson, 1989). A zoo is an important place for children to be educated about animals by experiencing contact with animals. As a lot of children grow up in cities and have no contact with animals it is important for them to visit a zoo where close encounters with live animals can take place. This is essential for creating a better understanding and appreciation of animals by these children (Andersen, 1987). Some zoos also help teach children to respect their pets and reduce cruelty to animals by offering pet care programmes (Turkowski, 1972). Zoo education has to constantly evolve. In the 1970‟s, the zoos‟ target audience for their education programmes were elementary school children (Hensel, 1978). The educational programmes typically consisted of talks on animals‟ adaptations and an introduction to the idea of an endangered species. They aimed to achieve a positive, caring attitude towards animals so that in the future there would be a generation of adults and politicians that were concerned about the environment and endangered species. As this can leave it too late to make a difference and save endangered animals, it is now important for zoos to target broader audiences in their educational programmes. This will hopefully lead to a different attitude today and a chance to effectively conserve species before it‟s too late. Primary targets for conservation education are parents and teachers as these people have a huge influence on children and can therefore potentially change the attitudes people will have in the future and the attitudes held today in important conservation issues (Tompson, 1989). In Cincinnati Zoo, they offer short courses to zoo members on subjects such as primates, zoo careers and advances in reproductive research. They also offer parent “in-services” in order to help parents reinforce their pre-school and primary school children on concepts they learn in school. They also offer parent/child afternoon and weekend classes and field trips (Tompson, 1989). In 1998, the Exhibit Design and Education Committee of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) carried out a survey. In this survey, they showed that along with running formal education programmes for schools, most of the member zoos provide general information to visitors by having special events planned by the education department. They also produce guidebooks and other publications. They use signs and graphics in their zoos (Andersen, 2003).

An important medium that zoos use for transmitting information are exhibit signs. In order to attract and not repel the visitors, they are kept short and presented clearly. They usually contain the species common and scientific name, their food habits, geographic range, some life history information, the species adaptations and illustrations to identify the species (Turkowski, 1972). Signs with interactive elements appeal to zoo visitors (Andersen, 2003). When signs are written in a way that provokes the visitors to look at them closer and ask questions to each other it is easy to create a discussion involving both adults and children. Adults can become interpreters and read signs to their children and discuss the signs with them. This can create a social learning process where both the adults and children are being educated (Andersen, 2003). Most zoos print guidebooks about the animals they display and their exhibits. They also periodically publish nature orientated magazines and distribute them to their supporting societies. Zoos often show high quality nature movies in order to educate visitors about their facility and specimens (Turkowski, 1972). Most large zoos have education centres, guided tours and school tour programmes for adults and children (Turkowski, 1972). A third of members consulted staff in the education department regarding master planning and collection planning. The arrangement of the animals in the zoo is important in educational terms. Zoos usually organise exhibits on a continental basis so visitors can learn the geographical distribution of the animals, or alternatively, they have the animals arranged in a classification theme. With the classification design, the physical and behavioural attributes of similar animals can be compared (Turkowski, 1972). The education departments of 50% of EAZA member zoos were involved in exhibit design. Exhibits are designed to imitate the species natural habitat as far as possible in order to enable the species to demonstrate its natural behaviours in its enclosure. The publics contact with an animal expressing its natural behaviours can stimulate their interest in the animal and cause them to want to learn more about that species. The design of the animal‟s enclosure is also important to attract the visitors‟ attention and stimulate them to read the educational signs (Andersen, 2003). As most zoos provide the animals with enclosures as close to their natural environment as possible, consequently the animals in the zoo express natural behaviour and the value of the zoo for education is enormous (Andersen, 2003). Observing animals in a zoo is more educational than watching a documentary or film about them on TV. This is because in a zoo the public can see the animal‟s behaviour in real time. For example, in a zoo, a pride of lions Panthera leo, can be observed sleeping for most of the

day as it would on the African savannah. However, in a 50 minute television programme the pride of lions are often shown as being active throughout the show (Andersen, 2003). Some zoo facilities use recorded messages on an audio system to educate visitors about the display animals or entire exhibits. Large zoos often have loudspeaker –equipped trams to educate visitors on guided tours and some other zoos have earphones with radio commentary about the exhibits that can be rented by visitors (Turkowski, 1972). Many zoos use animal shows to educate the public. Keepers or trainers demonstrate in these shows how various animals are adapted to their environments and the shows often include a talk given by the keeper or a member of the education staff (Andersen, 2003). Even most biology college students need to visit zoos to get an opportunity to see exotic animals in real life (Turkowski, 1972). Most zoos have dedicated buildings for teaching young people ranging from preschool to university students an array of biological topics (Knowles, 2003). The media is an important way for zoos to educate the public. Zoos are covered widely in the media and if every time a zoo representative included a conservation message such as a success story or suggesting how the public can become involved in conservation; the media could then be an important aspect of zoos education programmes (Tompson, 1989). Some zoo workers write newspaper articles about the animals they have in their zoo or answer general questions about animals. Zoos often participate in radio programmes where they inform the public of new animal acquisitions and engage in interviews with zoologists (Turkowski, 1972). Large zoos often produce television programmes that draw in large audiences. Zoos have been shown to educate their visitors. In a study in India where questionnaires were given out to “zoo visitors” and the general public to assess their knowledge on natural history and conservation strategies, “zoo visitors” performed better than the general public (Mallapur, et al. 2008). Zoos have a wide variety of methods of educating the public. It is necessary for zoos to balance this educational role with their role in conservation and to ultimately teach the public about the importance of the conservation of the animals they display.


Worldwide, 1000 zoos receive 600 million visitors every year (WAZA, 2005). The main reason that people visit zoos is for the attraction of observing the living animal, the species

that the visitors would not normally see in their day to day lives (Turley, 1999b). Entertainment is highly valued in zoos. It appears that endangered species are not over represented in zoos as species that are entertaining to visitors are of great importance to zoos. In a study using 56 species of boas and pythons, it was found that none of the variables associated with endangerment affected the number of individuals kept in zoos even though all of the species of boid snakes are relatively cheap so the price would not prevent zoos from obtaining them. The factors that most influenced the representation of particular species of boas and pythons were there aesthetic appeal and body length. They discovered that zoos are full of numerous species that are attractive to humans but as the number of spaces to keep boas and pythons in captivity is limited, the number of critically endangered species kept in zoos is far below the limit for viability. Therefore, the entertainment of the public is valued more than the conservation of the boas and pythons. (Maresova and Frynta, 2007) It is important for zoos to balance entertainment with their other essential roles in education and conservation. Modern zoos can offer subtle education to people at the zoo for leisure purposes. This is because there is fascinating information available at zoos about the ecology of every animal at the zoo (Knowles 2003). Entertainment is needed to attract visitors and make zoos financially viable so they can pursue their education and conservation tasks. Face painting, brass rubbing, miniature trains, monorails and alpine slides are often provided by zoos for visitors‟ entertainment and they provide additional revenue for the zoo (Turley 1999a). Some zoos are involved in organised parties. Chester Zoo organises children‟s parties, Edinburgh Zoo organises wedding ceremonies Bristol Zoo organises open air concerts. Day visitors make zoos financially viable and fund their roles in conservation and education (Turley 1999a). In a visitor survey that was designed to examine the relationship between zoo experiences and conservation outcomes, it was found that zoo visits are perceived as positive and associated with feelings of happiness, relaxation and interest in animals. The people surveyed most often claimed that they came to the zoo for enjoyment more than a learning experience. However, they learned something while they were there (Clayton et al, 2009). Visitors can have different perspectives on what is enjoyable at zoos. Some people‟s enjoyment is based on social experiences within a family group, some on seeing animals and some on learning about conservation (Sickler and Fraser, 2009). People primarily come to the zoo to have a good time, to have social interactions and to get the opportunity to interact with nonhuman

animals (Clayton, et al. 2009). Therefore, the zoo needs to be seen as entertaining in order to entice visitors so it can then educate them about their animals and conservation projects.

It is important not to exploit animals for entertainment purposes. Zoos no longer engage in elephant rides, chimpanzee tea parties or circus like seal and dolphin shows (Hutchins and Smith, 2003). All animal demonstrations carried out in zoos for entertainment purposes, even ones that involve close human-animal interactions, emphasize respect for the wild animals (Hopper, 1996). Entertainment programmes at zoos also strive to develop the publics‟ concern about the future of all life on earth (Martin, 1993). Therefore, zoos endeavour to balance entertainment, education and conservation to ultimately achieve a greater conservation ethic in their visitors.


Zoos are big businesses and attract a large number of visitors each year, so they can reach the public in ways that no other type of conservation organisation can. Therefore, zoos can make a real difference in the conservation of endangered species. They can maximise their strengths by increasing captive breeding of threatened species and educating the public in the conservation of these species (Tompson, 1989). As natural habitats in the wild are declining, zoos are now becoming necessary to guide the public‟s attitudes about animals and their conservation (Turkowski, 1972). Watching live animals in zoos is an entertaining and exciting experience for visitors, especially young children and school students. This experience can be used strategically by zoos to portray their conservation message which can bring about positive changes in visitors‟ attitudes and behaviours (Mallapur, et al. 2008). Zoos can deliver messages of biodiversity conservation in an enjoyable way and this may prove to be important in changing people‟s behaviours. World economics are dependent on healthy biodiversity as everything we eat, drink and produce is derived from biodiversity (Dickie, 2009). Zoos are visited predominantly for entertainment and to facilitate social interaction. Animals at the zoo can stimulate curiosity and cognitive engagement. Therefore, enjoyment at the zoo can facilitate learning in the zoo. Zoos provide a unique opportunity for visitors to connect with animals and therefore can enhance visitors support for conservation of the animals in the zoo (Clayton, et al. 2009). Zoos also use their entertainment role to finance their conservation

programmes. Therefore, zoos have to create a balance between education, conservation and entertainment. They have primary roles in conservation and educating the public in order to improve their attitudes relating to conservation. They also need to provide an entertainment factor for the public to enhance conservation related learning and in order to generate revenue for the zoo conservation and education programmes. References Andersen, L.L. (1987). The new children‟s zoo at the Copenhagen Zoo. Journal of the International Association of Zoo Educators 17, 59-62. Andersen, L.L. (2003). Zoo education: from formal school programmes to exhibit design and interpretation. International Zoo Yearbook. 28, 75-81. Bainbridge, D.R.J., Jabbour, H.N. (1998). Potential of assisted breeding techniques for the conservation of endangered mammalian species in captivity: a review. The Veterinary Record 143, 159–168. Bowkett, A.E. (2008). Recent captive-breeding proposals and the return of the ark concept to global species conservation. Conservation biology 23, 773-776. Clayton, S., Fraser, J., Saunders, C.D. (2009). Zoo experiences: conversations, connections, and concern for animals. Zoo Biology 28, 377-397. Dickie, L.A. (2009). The sustainable zoo: an introduction. International zoo yearbook 43, 15. Fitter, R. (1982). Arabian oryx returns to the wild. Oryx 16, 406-410. Hopper, C.N. (1996). Choosing your words: toward a language of respect in conservation education. AZA Annual Conference Proceedings 1996, 148-150. Hensel, K. (1978). Education in zoos and aquariums-trends and projections. AZA Annual Conference Proceedings 1978, 117-124. Hutchins, M., Smith, B. (2003). Characteristics of a world-class zoo or aquarium in the 21st century. International Zoo Yearbook 38, 130-141. IUDZG/CBSG (IUCN/SSC). (1993). The World Zoo Conservation Strategy; The Role of the Zoos and Aquaria of the World in Global Conservation. Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield, Illinois. IUCN (World Conservation Union). (1987). The Role of the Zoos and Aquaria of the World in Global Conservation. The IUCN policy statement on captive breeding. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Jarvis, C. (1967). The value of zoos for science and conservation. Oryx 9, 127-136

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