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Aug 16, 2013

Visitor Interest in Zoo Animals

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

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. This study makes the assertion that learning potential, although difficult to quantify, is very much related to the appeal of animal species and the interest that visitors show in them.

Using standard measures of visitor attraction and interest (the proportion of visitors that stop and for how long), we analyzed the relative interest in 40 zoo species held at Chester Zoo and the variables that are significant in predicting that popularity. Further to this, we suggest that the zoo collection planning process could use such information to make more informed decisions about which species should be held in the collection for their educational value.

Taxonomic grouping was found to be the most significant predictor of visitor interest—that is, mammals held more interest for visitors than any other group—although body size (length), increasing animal activity and whether the species was the ‘‘flagship’’ species in an exhibit or not, were all found to have a significant bearing on visitor interest.

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