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Zoo Mission Statements 1

An Analysis of Themes in Zoo Mission Statements

Ms. Patricia Patrick

Doctoral Student, Department of Curriculum & Instruction
340 Curry Building, University of North Carolina
Greensboro, NC 27402 Phone: 336 334-3444 Fax: 336 334-4120

Dr. Catherine E. Matthews

Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction
340 Curry Building, University of North Carolina
Greensboro, NC 27402 Phone: 336 334-3444 Fax: 336 334-4120

Dr. David Franklin Ayers

Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction
308 Curry Building, University of North Carolina
Greensboro, NC 27402 Phone: 336 334-3444 Fax: 336 334-4120

Dr. Sue Dale Tunnicliffe

Research Associate
School of Science, Technology and Maths, Institute of Education, University of London
20 Bedford Way
London, WC1H 0AL, England Phone +44 (0)20 7612 6801 Fax: +44 (0) 7612 6792
Zoo Mission Statements 2

An Analysis of Themes in Zoo Mission Statements

Patricia Patrick, Catherine E. Matthews, and David Franklin Ayers

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Sue Dale Tunnicliffe

School of Science, Technology and Maths, Institute of Education, University of London

Zoo Mission Statements 3


This study examines the mission statements of 137 AZA-accredited zoos in the

United States and reports on the seven predominant themes found therein: 1) education,

2) conservation, 3) recreation, 4) facilities, 5) research, 6) administration, and 7) culture.

We also discuss correlations between themes. We present a literature review on the roles

and purposes of zoos and discuss how this literature compares to the stated roles and

purposes of zoos as found in zoo mission statements.

Key Words (3- 6) zoo mission statements, zoo conservation, and zoo education
Zoo Mission Statements 4

An Analysis of Themes in Zoo Mission Statements

This study examines the mission statements of zoos in the United States that have

been accredited by the American Zoo & Aquarium Association (AZA) and reports on the

predominant themes and the thematic relationships therein. For the purpose of this paper

mission statements will be referred to as zoo missions or missions.

Review of Relevant Literature

Zoo visits. North American zoos and aquariums are well known as popular

recreational and educational venues (Chobot, 1989), attracting more than 134 million

visitors each year, nine million of whom are students (AZA, 2004). Zoos are used

frequently by teachers for field trips because of the unique educational opportunities that

they provide (Schroeder, 1970). Considering the number of visitors zoos attract for

education and recreation, zoos have an unusual opportunity to promote conservation

awareness and conservation-friendly action (Koebner, 1994). As zoo personnel become

increasingly aware of the potential conservation impact of zoological visits, they claim to

make conservation a vital component of their purpose through their missions (Kellert &

Wilson, 1993; Koebner, 1994).

Mission statements in general. The most important working document in an

organization is the mission statement (ReCollections, 2004). A mission statement is a

written declaration of the purpose of an organization, which guides critical and strategic

decision-making (Drohan, 1999; Quinley, 1991). The mission identifies the scope of the

operations of an organization and reflects its values and priorities (Abrahams, 1995). A

mission statement divulges the unique reason for existing as an organization, focuses the

allocation of financial resources (Bart, 1998), articulates the goals, dreams, behavior,
Zoo Mission Statements 5

culture, and strategies of the organization (Stone, 1996), states goals (Bart, 1998) and

reflects the ethics of the organization (Stone, 1996). Moreover, a mission statement is

designed to provide guidance for institutional planning, governance, administration, and

communication (Boone, Safrit & Jones, 2002; Quinley, 1991).

Effective missions are assets to organizations. The literature on missions, across

organizations, provides general guidelines for writing and examining missions (Table 1).

The next section of this paper specifically addresses literature about zoo missions.

Zoo mission statements. Zoos need a clear identity, with stated goals and aims

understood by the membership and the employees (ReCollections, 2004).

Today, more than ever, zoos need to think harder [about] why they are

there and what role they will fill in conservation, education, and research.

Millions of dollars go to house artwork in museums, but there are more

Rembrandts in the world than there are Siberian tigers. (Hutchins, 2003, p. 25)

Most zoological institutions have missions that give guidance to the operation of the zoo

and set goals for the facility (Mazur & Clark, 2001). The 2006 AZA Guide to

Accreditation of Zoological Parks and Aquariums requires a copy of the stated purposes

of the institution, which is typically a mission statement, as a part of its application for

accreditation (AZA, 2005). Missions describe the reasons zoos exist, who they serve, and

how they will serve. All policy development should flow from the mission statement,

clarify ethical and conservation issues and should be consulted when these issues arise

(ReCollections, 2004). Missions are an important guide for zoos (ReCollections, 2004)

and should be shared with zoo staff so that everyone knows what the zoo wants to

Zoo Mission Statements 6

Zoo professionals must ask how well matched their mission is with their goals

(Clark, 1993). The mission statement provides a lens that zoo professionals may use to

view the social, scientific, economic, political, and moral dynamics that impinge on the

operation of the zoo (Mazur & Clark, 2001). The mission statement insures that

organizational designs, culture, and operations promote ecological values, conservation,

and education (Mazur, 1991; Mazur & Clark, 2001). Zoo personnel are being urged to

evaluate the conservation efforts and missions of zoos (Balmford, et al., 2004; Gwynne,

2004; Reading & Miller, 2004; Sterling, et al., 2004; Stevens, et al., 2004) and are being

held accountable for accomplishing their stated missions (Miller et al., 2004).

Research Questions

As zoo professionals begin to define their organizations through conservation-

oriented missions, it is critical to evaluate the missions of zoos (Miller, et al., 2004).

Miller, et al. (2004) state that just as universities should be held accountable to a mission

of education, collection-based institutions that claim a mission of conservation should be

held accountable to that mission. This study analyzes the content of 137 USA AZA-

accredited missions. The following research questions were addressed in this study:

1. What are the predominant themes of these zoo missions?

2. What terms are used to describe the predominant themes in these zoo missions?

3. What are the relationships among these predominant themes?

Methodology/Information Sources

The missions of 137 AZA-accredited zoos were analyzed during this study. In

2004, AZA listed 213 accredited zoos and aquariums throughout North America (AZA,

2004). This study was limited to USA zoos and zoos with aquaria, excluding stand alone
Zoo Mission Statements 7

aquaria and wildlife parks/centers. One hundred forty-two zoos met these criteria. Eighty

of these 142 zoos provided their missions on their websites. AZA maintains a website,, with individual links to the home pages of zoos. The missions were not

always on the home pages and locating the missions required searching the websites of

many of these zoos. Fifty-seven additional missions were obtained by emailing (51) and

calling individual zoos (6), thus giving us a final number of 137 zoo missions for


Description of Research Methods

Our analysis of the data included use of both qualitative and quantitative methods.

The mission were analyzed through discourse analysis using a systemic network. After

predominant themes were determined, relationships among these themes were analyzed

using statistical procedures.

The analysis of zoo missions was guided by a view of language as a social

semiotic system, a system for making meaning of human relations, social events, and

other aspects of social life. Drawing from functional systemic linguistics (Halliday, 1978;

Halliday & Hasan, 1989), discourse analysts view language not only as a tool for

communicating ideas but also as a means of achieving specific socio-political outcomes,

including outcomes at the level of the organization. Gee (1999) further asserts that

language structures “human affiliation within cultures and social groups and institutions”

(p. 1). From this perspective, zoo missions serve as “language-in-use,” (Gee, 1999) and

constitute social action. The zoo mission statement, in this sense, shapes the meanings

assigned to zoo activities, reflects the interests of zoo stakeholders, and directs the

activities of zoo professionals. Because economic, social, and cultural changes are a
Zoo Mission Statements 8

function of discourse, it becomes important for zoo professionals to understand the

language that constitutes meanings of social actions and processes enacted within the

zoological park.

To analyze the “language-in-use” (Gee, 1999) in zoo missions a systemic network

was developed. Systemic networks have been used to analyze conversations (Tunnicliffe,

1995, 1996, 2000), free-response items (Monk, 1983), and interview questions based on

students’ drawings (Boulter, Tunnicliffe & Reiss, 2003, Tunnicliffe, 2000). These

networks categorize and describe data by displaying the relationship between the

categories. In this study, a systemic network was used to help the authors obtain useful

descriptive information and to allow for tests of significance between qualitative

variables. A systemic network allows qualitative data to be transformed into quantitative

data by categorizing or grouping items and preserving the relationship between the

categories or groups (Bliss, Monk, & Ogborn, 1983; Tunnicliffe, 1995).

Systemic networks (Bliss et al., 1983; Monk, 1983a, 1983b) produce a network of

categories that gradually becomes more specific. First, data are organized in large

categories, or ordinates (themes). Ordinates are then subdivided into smaller and smaller

units until a set of terminal, or end categories for each ordinate category is reached (Bliss

et al., 1983; Tunnicliffe, 1995; Tunnicliffe & Reiss, 1999). Figure 1 is an example of the

systemic network developed for the ordinate category or theme of facilities (Bliss et al.,

1983; Tunnicliffe, 1995; Tunnicliffe & Reiss, 1999). Table 2 is an example of how a

mission statement was coded in the ordinate category for facilities.

The missions were subjected to an intensive, iterative analysis, in which we

mapped a set of categories that could encompass most of the data. All raters agreed upon
Zoo Mission Statements 9

the categorizations of word association responses, resulting in high inter–rater

consistency. In summary, seven ordinate categories were developed from reading the zoo

missions. The predominant themes in order of prominence were (a) education, including

affective, cognitive, and general, (b) conservation, (c) recreation, (d) facilities, (e)

research, (f) administration and (g) culture.

Scales for each of the seven ordinate categories or themes were developed to allow

for quantitative analysis. Within each scale, levels I-VI were generated, based on the data

derived from the systemic network (Figure 1). Each level represents the amount of

information in a particular ordinate category that a zoo provides in its mission statement.

Each ascending level (I-VI) includes more detailed information about the particular

ordinate category. Level I means the ordinate category was not mentioned, while Level

VI means the category was described with the most detail. Each of the 137 zoos then was

assigned a level for each of the seven themes. Table 3 gives the total number of zoos

ranked at each level within each theme. As an example of our scales, the scale for

facilities is included in Table 4. An example of how levels were established from

missions can be found in Table 5. The levels were analyzed using SPSS to determine

relationships between themes.

Results and Discussion

The missions analyzed in this study ranged in length from four words to two pages of

text. The missions addressed seven predominant themes (in order of prominence): (a)

education, including affective, cognitive, and general, (b) conservation, (c) recreation, (d)

facilities, (e) research, (f) administration and (g) culture. Each of the themes is discussed

in the following sections of the paper. The number of zoo missions that were coded in the
Zoo Mission Statements 10

ordinate and subordinate categories and terminals are given in parentheses. See Table 2

for an example of how missions were coded.


Education(132). Conservation and conservation education have become the self-

stated first priority of accredited zoos and aquariums (Koebner, 1994). However, while

our findings show that 132 (96%) of the 137 zoo missions include education as a

predominant theme, there is not much focus on conservation education.

As zoos are becoming more proactive in their conservation education efforts, zoo

education programs are moving away from strictly taxonomic and natural history themes

toward ecological interpretation and conservation implications (Hunt 1993). Zoo

professionals are focusing on finding ways to instill in visitors the knowledge and

feelings that motivate conservation action (Anderson, 2001). The missions of zoos should

support the conservation message of the zoo (Croke, 1997), educate the public (Hutchins

& Conway, 1995), and identify the human reaction to the wonders of the zoo (Resnicow,


Even though zoo personnel claim that education is a priority and 60% of zoo

visitors state that zoos are places for education (Lessow, 1990), few people visit zoos

with the declared aim to be educated. People generally visit zoos to be entertained

(Martin, 2000). Even when adults recognized the educational importance of zoos they did

not visit the zoo intending to learn, but they encouraged their children to do so (Lessow,

1990). Zoo missions are important because our analysis indicates an incongruence among

the views of zoo personnel and zoo visitors with respect to the importance of the

educational purpose of zoos.

Zoo Mission Statements 11

In our analysis of the zoo missions, three subordinate categories of education

emerged: affective education, cognitive education and general education. In order to

more deeply analyze the zoo missions with respect to these goals for education, we used

Bloom’s taxonomy as our framework for this analysis.

In 1956, Bloom developed a taxonomy of educational objectives. The first level

of educational goals they established was the three domains of learning: cognitive

(knowledge), affective (emotions) and psychomotor (physical skills) domains. Bloom and

his colleagues then devised a hierarchy of learning levels from the simplest level of each

domain (recall and compare/contrast in the knowledge domain; awareness in the affective

domain) to the most complex level of each domain (synthesis and evaluation in the

knowledge domain; internalizing values that guide behaviors in the affective

domain). The educational components of zoo missions were examined and categorized as

affective(88 or 64%), general(70 or 51%), and/or cognitive(43 or 31%). Twenty-two

missions used only the word education. If the nature of the educational goal (i.e. either

affective or cognitive) could not be discerned from our examination of the language used

in the mission statement, then the word(s) was categorized as general. None of the

general education statements made any specific reference to conservation education.

Bloom and his colleagues suggested a number of verbs that implied different levels and

domains of education and these verb choices were used to guide our categorization

schema. For specific words and phrases used in the missions see Table 6.

With respect to cognitive educational references, three zoo missions included the

phrase “knowledge of conservation” and five statements included the phrase

Zoo Mission Statements 12

“understanding of conservation”. Thus, less than 20% of all of the cognitive statements

included a phrase about conservation education.

The fact that there were twice the number of affective references(88) as cognitive

references(43) points perhaps to the response of zoos to the call in the literature for a new

educational mission. Kolbert (1995) issued a call for affective education. She argued that

little had changed in public education in zoos and maintained that zoos give out more

scientific information on animals and conservation but do little to encourage different

relationships with animals and the natural world. Furthermore, Kolbert states that zoos

describe animals in terms of their behavior, their adaptations, their classification, using

the same language and content that can be found in any textbook or nature show. Kolbert

argues strongly for affective education, commenting that we need to care deeply about

the perceptions and feelings of people as they experience the zoo, careful not to crush the

empathetic response with a lot of facts. Most importantly, zoo educators should

encourage zoo visitors to consider how they fit into the larger community of life.

However, out of 88 affective references only 18 (or 20%) specifically referred to

conservation education (e.g. promote learning of conservation, promote an awareness of

conservation, create an awareness of wildlife conservation, encourage participation in

conservation, inspire a conservation ethic and appreciate conservation).

Conservation(116). The capacity of zoo personnel to fulfill conservation goals

requires an understanding of the design and implementation of conservation policies of

the zoo. The conservation policies of the zoo should be easily recognized in the mission

statement. Of the 137 missions, 116 (85%) specifically mentioned conservation, but 21 of

these used only the word conservation without providing further detail. We found that
Zoo Mission Statements 13

zoos define conservation by describing their practice and/or advocacy. For words and

phrases used to describe these missions see Table 6.

The roles of the zoo should effectively support conservation of local and global

biological diversity (Mazur & Clark, 2001). Our study shows that 19 zoos mention

conservation programs supporting diversity; nine mention global programs, six mention

local programs and five mention national programs.

Conservation is achieved by supporting the conservation of biodiversity through

specialized animal breeding, research, and education programs (Rabb, 1994). Zoos have a

role in solving the problem of worldwide declines in biodiversity by participating in

endangered species conservation plans (Mazur & Clark, 2001). Our data show 13 zoos

mention breeding, including Species Survival Plan (SSP)(4), husbandry(3) and/or captive

breeding(3). Even though the 2006 AZA Guide to Accreditation of Zoological Parks and

Aquariums (AZA, 2005) clearly states conservation must be an element of the mission

statement of the institution, 15% of AZA-accredited zoos make no mention of

conservation in their mission statement.

Recreation. Another common theme in zoo missions is that zoological parks are a

site for recreation. Despite the efforts of zoo personnel to promote a conservation role and

image, perceptions persist of zoos as places of entertainment rather than institutions of

scholarly, scientific, or conservation pursuits (Bitgood, 1988; Kellert & Dunlap 1989).

Ninety-five (69%) zoo missions promoted recreation; 23 of these only mentioned the

word recreation. Terms used to further define recreation in the mission statement can be

found in Table 6. As stated earlier, zoo missions are a reflection of zoo policy. If zoos are

intent on changing their image from one of recreation and leisure to conservation and
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education, then they should think carefully about changing their missions, which should

reflect and guide policy development. Conversely, if zoo personnel want to address the

needs and interests of zoo visitors then perhaps there should be a greater focus on zoos as

recreational opportunities/outlets.

Facilities(74). Facilities were addressed in 74 (54%) missions. The most

prominent subordinate category of facilities was exhibits(69). Often, exhibits are believed

to be the outward manifestation of the soul of the zoo (Croke, 1997) and should

demonstrate a dedication to the values and mission of the zoo (Bierlein, 2003). When

exhibits are presented in a meaningful context, and with an appropriate message, they can

educate visitors about important conservation issues (Kellert 1996). Our study shows that

thirteen (19%) missions stated exhibits(69) were for education(13). Additionally, fifteen

missions mention the presentation of information in exhibits describing exhibits as:

interpretive(12), informative(3), interactive(2), and/or narrative(1).

Zoos spend millions of dollars, each year, to build naturalistic exhibits

(Swanagan, 2000) due to the belief that naturalistic exhibits, with small amounts of

specific information, increase the affective impact on visitors by offering a view of the

animal in the context of its natural environment (Coe, 1985; Finlay, Patterson, & Maple,

1988). Moreover, visitors report increased interest in conservation after visiting

interactive, naturalistic exhibits (Derwin & Piper, 1988; Ogden, 1992). Our study shows

that fourteen zoos described exhibits(69) as naturalistic(14).

Obviously, animals are an important part of zoo exhibits. In the context of

exhibits(69) the living collection(59) and the treatment of animals(27) were mentioned

most frequently. Of the 54 zoos that mentioned their collection(59), 54 identified animals
Zoo Mission Statements 15

and thirty identified plants. The treatment of animals(27) was specified using the

following words: care(19) and/or respect(3). For additional information on the terms used

to describe the facilities see Table 6.

Research(49) Research is essential for maintaining wildlife species in captivity

(Benirschke, 1987) and according to Goodrowe (2003) many zoos and aquariums include

research as a mandate in their missions or goals. This contradicts our findings that

research(49) was mentioned in only 37% of the missions.

Having scientists on staff, or access to scientists through agreements with other

institutions, is important for conducting or evaluating conservation projects. (Conway &

Hutchins 2001). Additionally, zoos provide training opportunities for scientists (Snyder et

al., 1995; Koebner, 1994; Wehnelt et al., 2003). Two zoos mentioned researchers(2) in

the mission statement and described them as zoo staff(2), students(1), and/or


Zoos are involved in in situ and ex situ research in order to improve animal

management, husbandry, welfare, breeding, (Koebner, 1994; Wehnelt et al., 2003),

conservation in situ (Wehnelt et al., 2003), and play a role in understanding behaviors that

simulate those characteristics in the wild (Goodrowe, 2003). Six missions identified

research sights as: global(3), in the zoo(3), in the field(1), and/or local(2). In 2002 the

AZA Conservation Education Committee began a visitor studies project to determine the

overall impact of visits to zoos on the knowledge of visitors (Dierking, et al., 2002).

However, the research focus in zoo missions is clearly scientific. Neither educational

research nor visitor studies were specifically mentioned.

Zoo Mission Statements 16

Administration(31).Thirty-one zoo (23%) missions addressed the

administration(31) of the organization. Some zoos are incorporating market-oriented

approaches and organizational practices in an attempt to maximize and stabilize revenues

(Mazur 1997). This study found 22 zoos identified finance(22) in the mission statement.

Three zoos identified themselves as a business(3). Four zoos mentioned funding of zoo

operations(4) and funding sources(6) were identified as private(3), public(3), and/or

corporate(1). Zoos were also concerned about the economic impact the zoo has on the

community(Table 6).

With respect to personnel(11), eleven zoo missions described the characteristics

of personnel(Table 6), named zoo personnel(6), or both. Zoo personnel(6) included

scientists(4), educators(4), volunteers(2) and curators(4). Missions asserted that the work

environment(8) should be fun(2) and a place of excellence(2). The work environment(8)

at the zoo was described as providing quality service(5), rewarding(1), empowering(1)

and having a climate conducive to good communication(1).

Culture(23). Zoos are important cultural institutions, which both mirror and

project culture in our society. Culture impacts exhibit design and projects cultural

perspectives to zoo visitors (Tarlow, 2001). For example, Australian exhibits depict life in

the outback and visitors leave with impressions of life in the outback based on their

experiences at the exhibit. Since culture(23) was only mentioned in twenty-three

missions (17%) it was not assigned levels and was not statistically analyzed (Table 3).

Thematic Relationships

Missions were analyzed quantitatively within themes to determine if there were

any relationships among the themes. Each zoo was assigned a level of prominence within
Zoo Mission Statements 17

each theme. The data were then analyzed using a Spearman’s correlation 2-tailed test

(Table 6).

The most interesting finding is the fact that the correlation between education and

conservation is very low (.089) and insignificant. However when missions stated

conservation in relation to education it was coded as education. For example, the

following was coded as cognitive education: knowledge of conservation. This may

account for the low correlation between education and conservation. Despite this

discrepancy in the data there may still be a disconnect between education and

conservation. Two missions used the exact words conservation education and 35 (25%)

zoo missions mentioned both education and conservation. Given the fact that in the zoo

literature the words are frequently used in combination as conservation education, there is

little support for the notion that zoo missions have a focus on conservation education. The

highest (and significant) correlation between themes is between recreation and facilities

(.441). Therefore, while zoos profess and then strive to embrace education and

conservation as missions, the fact that recreation and facilities are so strongly correlated

sends a strong message to zoo visitors about the roles and purposes of zoos.


Drawing from the literature, we identified four main purposes of zoos: 1) exhibiting

animals for the public (Mazur & Clark, 2001); 2) providing education; 3) breeding plants

and animals (Kolbert, 1995); and 4) providing recreational opportunities for visitors

(Chizar et al., 1990; Bostock, 1993; Martin, 2000). Our analysis of 137 zoo missions

determined some overlap between the above stated purposes of zoos and missions. We

found that the predominant themes are, in order of frequency, 1) education, 2)

Zoo Mission Statements 18

conservation, 3) recreation, 4) facilities, 5) research, 6) administration and 7) culture. We

also identified the words used to describe the themes we determined and these words are

listed in Table 6. Additionally, we examined the seven predominant themes and looked

for relationships among themes (Tables 3 & 7).

The analysis of zoo missions shows that education(132) is the most frequently

mentioned theme. Ninety-six percent of all missions address education, 64% note

affective education goals while 31% mention cognitive education goals.

Conservation(116) is the second most often cited theme. Zoo personnel identified their

involvement in conservation through a description of their practices and their advocacy.

Recreation is mentioned in 69% of the statements even though zoo personnel reject the

idea of being recreational centers (Kellert & Wilson, 1993; Koebner, 1994)

Fifty-four percent of missions acknowledged facilities, which are mostly identified

as exhibits. Visitor facilities, amenities, and the characteristics of the zoo are often

mentioned in zoo missions, while animal welfare is infrequently mentioned in the


It is apparent that some commonalities exist among the missions of AZA-accredited

zoos. Our study concurs with the literature in that our research supports claims that

education and conservation are priorities for zoos. However, education and conservation

overlap in only 25% of the missions. Each mission statement should reflect the policies

of the zoo. Further studies might look at the relationships between demographic data and

Zoo Mission Statements 19


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Author Note

Patricia Patrick is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Curriculum and

Instruction at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Catherine Matthews is associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and

Instruction at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

David Franklin Ayers is assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and

Instruction at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Sue Dale Tunnicliffe is a research associate at the School of Science, Technology and

Maths, Institute of Education, University of London.

Please direct inquiries related to this research to Patricia Patrick at
Zoo Mission Statements 27