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Naturalistic exhibits may be more effective than traditional exhibits at improving zoo-visitor attitudes toward African apes

By K. E. Lukas, S. R. Ross

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Zoos play a unique role in wildlife conservation, particularly in the area of conservation education. Because of their popularity and flagship status for broader conservation issues, great apes may prove to be one of the most important educational conduits in zoos. In 2002, we surveyed knowledge of and attitudes toward African apes in visitors to the Lester E. Fisher Great Ape House (GAH) at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, IL, USA. In the current study, we replicated the survey to document attitudes to and knowledge of the newly renovated and naturalistic Regenstein Center for African Apes (RCAA) and compared results. We found RCAA was no more effective than GAH in increasing visitor knowledge about apes, although visitors answered more questions correctly upon exit than on entrance in both buildings. We did find, however, that RCAA was more effective than GAH at improving visitor attitudes toward chimpanzees. Specifically, upon exiting, RCAA visitors showed increased naturalistic attitudes and reduced utilitarian attitudes toward chimpanzees. Exhibiting apes in naturalistic settings may therefore be an effective way to increase visitor concern for apes in nature and in zoos. Zoos and aquariums investing in new, naturalistic ape exhibits with the aim to educate about, provide emotional connections to, improve attitudes toward, and ultimately increase conservation of apes, need to then critically evaluate whether the actual effect of the designed environment on visitors - above and beyond intended benefits for the animals - is commensurate with the investment. The broader impacts of even small shifts in visitor attitude in the right direction could be significant. These findings may vary across species and settings, however, and should be assessed accordingly.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 27
Issue 3
Pages 435-455
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
Publisher Bloomsbury
Language English
Author Address Curator of Conservation of Science, Cleveland Metropark Zoo, 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland, OH 44109,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Animals
  3. Anthrozoology
  4. APEC countries
  5. Attitudes
  6. Biological resources
  7. Buildings
  8. Chimpanzees
  9. Conservation
  10. Corn
  11. Developed countries
  12. Education
  13. Emotions
  14. Gardens
  15. Gorillas
  16. Great ape
  17. Illinois
  18. Impact
  19. Invertebrates
  20. Mammals
  21. North America
  22. OECD countries
  23. Primates
  24. Social psychology and social anthropology
  25. training
  26. United States of America
  27. vertebrates
  28. visitors
  29. Wild animals
  30. wildlife
  31. Zoo and captive wild animals
  32. Zoos