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Dec 1, 2008

Delivering Bad News

Delivering bad news from Chester Zoo - North of England Zoological Society  
Can zoos risk delivering bad news? Displaying and evaluating ‘Hard Rain’ - a disturbing and challenging exhibit 

Much has been written and said in recent times about the emerging role of environmental education as a primary focus for zoos. In the spirit of Agenda 21, zoos are charged with influencing attitudes and promoting behavioural change.

However, the majority of zoo visitors come with a different agenda; a fun day out with the family. They may not be primed for learning – especially if messages are gloom laden prophecies of environmental disaster. For this reason zoos must apply caution in getting the balance right between recreational aims and achieving their higher ideals.

The Education Division at Chester Zoo took the decision to test that balance with an agreement to host ‘Hard Rain – Our Headlong Collision with Nature’, a provocative outdoor exhibition with often disturbing and graphic portrayals of environmental and human suffering. We are the first zoo in the world to stage the exhibition (www.hardrainproject.com).

The exhibition opened for World Environment Day, 28th May 2008. Since the opening, visitor and staff reaction have been monitored as part of our ongoing commitment to audience research. Reactions have been both surprising and encouraging and the book that accompanies the exhibition has achieved best seller status in our retail outlets. However, there have been dissenting voices too. 

Developed by:  Chester Zoo - North of England Zoological Society

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