Conservation education: are zoo animals effective ambassadors and is there any cost to their welfare?

Spooner, S.L. ORCID: 0000-0001-6650-3135, Farnworth, M.J. ORCID: 0000-0001-6226-0818, Ward, S.J. ORCID: 0000-0002-5857-1071 and Whitehouse-Tedd, K.M. ORCID: 0000-0003-0061-489X, 2021. Conservation education: are zoo animals effective ambassadors and is there any cost to their welfare? Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2 (1), pp. 41-65. ISSN 2673-5636

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Animal ambassador encounters (AAE), where visitors come into close-contact with animals, are popular in zoos and are advocated as promoting connection to wild species. However, educational and animal-welfare implications are relatively unknown. We conducted a systematic literature review (PRISMA) to investigate visitor and animal outcomes of AAE. We identified 19 peer reviewed articles and 13 other records focused on AAEs. Although we found net positive or neutral impacts overall, several studies indicated that high-intensity visitor contact and long-term exposure may be detrimental to animal welfare. Most studies lacked rigour and claims were based on an absence of negative impacts rather than evidence of benefits. Multiple publications were derived from the same datasets and there were no standardised measures for either welfare or education impacts. Of the peer-reviewed articles, just two considered both education and welfare. Education studies often used perceived learning or only post-experience testing. Welfare studies used small samples (median n = 4; range 1–59), and limited measures of welfare. In order to justify the continued use of AAEs in modern zoos, animal welfare costs must be proven to be minimal whilst having demonstrable and substantial visitor educational value. Large-scale, standardised impact assessments of both education and welfare impacts are needed.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
Creators: Spooner, S.L., Farnworth, M.J., Ward, S.J. and Whitehouse-Tedd, K.M.
Publisher: MDPI AG
Date: 2021
Volume: 2
Number: 1
ISSN: 2673-5636
Rights: Copyright: © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (
Divisions: Schools > School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 10 Mar 2021 12:34
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:05

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