In the last 30 years there has been a shift toward educating people about conservation within zoos. Public learning about conservation of wildlife and habitats is vital if the extinction of wildlife is to be avoided. Zoos offer opportunities to educate visitors about habitat conservation through programs and activities, and the way individual habitats and zoos are being designed. Education about wildlife and habitat conservation is important, and must address scientific, aesthetic, and ecological values to be effective.
When educating people about the importance of conservation of species and their habitats in zoos, it is important to create a connection between them and nature. This connection can be achieved by creating a sense of place that allows people to be inspired by nature and understand the importance of preserving it for the future. These connections have the potential to change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans existing in harmony with each other.
This report focuses on the redesign of the tiger and sloth bear exhibits at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas, which offer opportunities to create exhibits that focus on animal welfare, offer educational experiences, and evoke a sense of place.
In studying the role that zoos have in educating and encouraging wildlife and habitat conservation, and in creating a sense of place for the broader community, a variety of methods have been used including: literature review, precedent studies, and passive observation of zoo users. Using these methods, I determined that a successful educational programming strategy and design should include: having keepers or volunteers available to talk directly to zoo visitors, creating opportunities for visitors to form an emotional and intellectual connection to the animals and their habitats, creating an immersive experience for visitors within a naturalized exhibit, offering enrichment features for animals that encourage activity and natural behaviors that visitors can observe, and including interactive educational components for visitors. These programming elements can contribute to Sunset Zoo implementing successful strategies for education within exhibits.