Creating experiences for visitors that increase their biological knowledge and inspire conservation mindedness is a critical task for zoos and aquariums. A growing body of literature suggests that emotional stimulation is affected by characteristics of both the visitor and the visitor's experiences and is important for learning and inspiring pro-environmental sentiment. In this study we explored relationships between emotional experience, the factors that influence it, visitors' predispositions toward nature, and their reports of conservation mindedness after viewing three carnivore exhibits at the Bronx Zoo, USA. We surveyed visitors after they viewed tigers, African wild dogs, and spotted hyenas during baseline conditions or when the animals were given environmental enrichment to stimulate natural behavior and activity. We asked visitors to report their predispositions toward nature, the extent of positive emotional experiences they had while viewing the animals, and how the experience affected their conservation mindedness. Environmental enrichment significantly increased animal behavioral diversity, particularly for African wild dogs, and contributed to visitors reporting having had an up-close encounter with the animals, both of which affected the strength of positive emotional experiences at the exhibits. The extent of eye contact with the animal and the animal species also significantly affected emotional responses. Women reported stronger emotional experiences than men, however younger adults did not experience stronger positive emotional responses than older participants. Visitors' predispositions toward nature and emotional responses were significantly correlated. Strong predispositions toward nature and emotional experiences produced significantly stronger reports of conservation mindedness in visitors as a result of their experience at the exhibit. These findings have implications for animal husbandry, exhibit design, education, and outreach efforts for zoos.
|Author Address||Department of Mammalogy, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, NY 10460, USA.firstname.lastname@example.org|
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