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April 22, 2010

Do Zoos and Aquariums Provide Effective Conservation Education to the Public?

A critique of a paper by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Humane Society International

A new study, entitled Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors? A Critical Evaluation of the American Zoo and Aquarium Study by Dr. Lori Marino and colleagues critiques a 2007 study by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) entitled Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit to a Zoo or Aquarium. This AZA study sought to find tangible evidence that zoos and aquariums provide effective conservation education to the public. While zoos often tout their credibility as educational institutions, there has been little quantitative, independent verification that this is in fact the case.

According to Marino et al., there were six significant flaws in the AZA study’s methodology. These findings render AZA’s conclusions uninterpretable, leaving zoos and aquariums once again without concrete evidence to support their claim that visitors learn effectively and experience lasting changes in attitudes.

Humane Society International has long-held that the public display of marine mammals is not an effective educational tool. Marino et al. lend support to this position. The AZA study is good propaganda, but not good science. The authors of the new critique believe a proper study on the effectiveness of education programs at zoos and aquariums is long overdue, but it must address the flaws of the 2007 AZA study. Although captive animal displays have existed for hundreds of years, the view that they could be more than just a form of entertainment is of relatively recent origin. It is now time for society to stop taking on faith that zoos and aquariums provide effective education and start demanding legitimate evidence.