Education in the zoo: a study of the relationship between education, zoo visitors and animal behaviour

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Collins, Courtney Keane
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University College Cork
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One of the primary stated goals of zoos is education of the public. Yet, zoos have been criticised for failing to show evidence of their claims to be educators. Because of the general lack of research surrounding education in the zoo, even less is known about how education relates to the other areas of zoo research. This thesis presents a range of integrated studies which explore the relationship between zoological education, zoo visitors and animal behaviour. First, the effect of the zoo setting and visitors on the behaviour of ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) and Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) was considered. Generally, it was found that the animals had habituated to visitors and were not disturbed by them. Next, the effect of zoological education on children’s learning was assessed using pre- and post-surveys. Some groups of children participated in an educational intervention (EI), during which children made enrichment devices for animals. The results indicated that children who participated in the EI were more likely show increases in knowledge and behaviour than those who did not. Finally, children’s behaviour and conversation and animals’ behaviour were simultaneously recorded as the children viewed the animals. Overwhelmingly, children who participated in the EI engaged in fewer negative behaviours towards the animals, made more positive and fewer negative comments than those who did not participate in the EI. There was little effect on the animals’ behaviour of being observed by either group. This thesis represents the most detailed research into children’s zoological education in Ireland and is one of the first studies to observe children’s and animals’ behaviour simultaneously, while considering the effect of education. It is a significant source of information for both educators and zoological institutions in regards to the development of educational material to enhance learning in the zoo and to promote pro-conservation behaviour change and positive animal welfare. Additionally, it established that the species included here were not disturbed by visitor interactions, and in a supervised capacity may be suitable for limited animal-visitor interactions.
Education , Animal behaviour , Visitor effects , Enrichment , Animal-visitor interactions
Collins, C. K. 2019. Education in the zoo: a study of the relationship between education, zoo visitors and animal behaviour. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.