About This Project
Many zoos offer opportunities to have up-close encounters with ambassador animals. These experiences have the potential to increase participants’ interest in animals, but also inspire them to take action to protect these animals in the wild. This study will use observations and interviews to explore how program facilitation, from open-ended participant-driven approaches to directed curriculum-driven approaches, can affect participants’ interest, learning, and conservation intentions.
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What is the context of this research?
Up-close encounters with animals are powerful experiences for zoo visitors and research shows that a range of interactions can positively impact perceptions of animals, a critical precursor to inspiring conservation action. Zoos offer various ways for visitors to meet animals, including participant-driven programs in which visitors direct the discussion and facilitators are expert resources, as well as curriculum-driven programs in which facilitators actively guide the experience. Here we examine how facilitation affects participants’ reactions, learning, and conservation intentions during and after these experiences. Zoos prioritize conservation; using ambassador animals to capitalize on visitors’ excitement towards conservation intentions will advance their mission.
What is the significance of this project?
Zoos and aquariums in the US serve millions of guests each year and are valued sources of science and conservation information. Their diverse guest base and status as wildlife and conservation experts positions them to inspire people to act on behalf of wildlife. Programs that provide animal encounters provide opportunities to emphasize conservation. Facilitating experiences with ambassadors require extensive investment by zoos in training staff and animals to work with guests. It is critical these experiences inspire and spark curiosity, and advance zoos' conservation missions. Studying two types of facilitated experiences will provide insight in how to design experiences to empower guests to act on behalf of wildlife.
What are the goals of the project?
We will investigate the effect of facilitation on participants’ reactions, learning, and conservation intentions during and after two program types at the Bronx Zoo. We will observe 10 participant-driven programs and 10 curriculum-driven programs with a range of animals. We will develop a group level observation protocol to track affective responses, learning indicators, and conservation action interest. We will also interview 10 participant groups immediately after the program to gain insight into their experiences. Using a grounded theory approach, we will surface common themes to use to develop recommendations to ensure that animal ambassador programs are not only exciting and engaging, but also inspire conservation action.
We are offering a generous incentive ($20/family) to families who participate in the interview part of the study. The remaining budget will be used to cover costs for time and effort for the project and time and effort for dissemination of the findings and recommendations.
The outlined timeline provides flexibility between milestones. Development of the observation and interview protocols can be worked on concurrently with the IRB application. Recruitment planning and scheduling of observations and interviews can start as soon as the IRB application is approved. We will disseminate findings internally, through experiment.com, and submit our findings to a peer review journal for publication.
Feb 05, 2019
Mar 15, 2019
Develop Observation and Interview Protocol
Mar 29, 2019
Jun 15, 2019
Program Observations and Interviews
Jul 19, 2019
Meet the Team
Katie Manion, Curator of Education at the Bronx Zoo, Kathleen LaMattina, Collections Manager of Special Animal Exhibits at the Bronx Zoo, and Su-Jen Roberts, Director of Educational Research and Evaluation at the Wildlife Conservation Society, will be advising Rank throughout the project.
Having worked as an environmental educator and animal caregiver it was always a privilege to bring people closer to wildlife. Now, as a social science researcher who studies conservation psychology, I believe zoos and aquariums are poised to empower audiences to feel more connected to wildlife and to protect the environment.
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