Home Institution

Washington University in St Louis

Publication Date

Fall 2008

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and the Environment


This research project addresses the role of zoos in creating a conservation ethic in their visitors, with a focus on Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. The zoo educates visitors about animals, species, and habitats as well as conservation and threats to biodiversity. Interactive exhibits encourage the visitors to reflect upon the relationship between humans and animals and humans and nature, as well as solidify the zoo experience in the visitors’ minds. By providing an entertaining experience, the zoo renders visitors more receptive to conservation messages. Other messages increase respect for animals, species and habitats. Individual connections with animals are facilitated to encourage respect and a sense of relatedness. With certain species, similarities between humans are emphasized to increase human’s sense of connection to these species. Personal responsibility to aid in conservation efforts is stressed, and the zoo gently flatters the visitors’ egos to make them feel like capable agents of change. Through education about its own various conservation efforts, the zoo sets a precedent for pro-conservation behavior. Suggestions for specific actions that people can take further encourage pro-conservation attitudes. The habitat orientation and immersive exhibits serve to encourage greater understanding of and respect for whole ecosystems rather than just individual animals. Lastly, experiences that evoke emotions create a sense of care and connection for individual animals, species and habitats. One potential critique of zoos, that they reinforce anthropocentrism, is explored, as well as the overall effectiveness of zoos in creating a conservation ethic in visitors. I conclude that zoos can be meaningful tools for increasing the conservation ethics of their visitors, but generally, local and personal connections with nature are more valuable.


Natural Resources and Conservation


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