Last revision 1/28/03; Updated 1/28/15 to change "program animal" to "ambassador animal"
The AZA Conservation Education Committee (CEC) supports
the appropriate use of ambassador animals as an important and powerful
educational tool that provides a variety of benefits to zoo and aquarium
educators seeking to convey cognitive and affective (emotional)
messages about conservation and wildlife.
and aquariums are ideal venues for developing emotional ties to
wildlife and fostering an appreciation for the natural world. However,
developing and delivering effective educational messages in the
free-choice learning environments of zoos and aquariums is a difficult
Zoo and aquarium educators are constantly challenged to
develop methods for engaging and teaching visitors who often view a trip
to the zoo as a social or recreational experience (Morgan and
Hodgkinson, 1999). The use of ambassador animals
can provide the compelling experience necessary to attract and maintain
personal connections with visitors of all motivations, thus preparing
them for learning and reflection on their own relationships with nature.
Ambassador animals are powerful catalysts for learning for a
variety of reasons. They are generally active, easily viewed, and
usually presented in close proximity to the public. These factors have
proven to contribute to increasing the length of time that people spend
watching animals in zoo exhibits (Bitgood, Patterson and Benefield,
1986, 1988; Wolf and Tymitz, 1981).
In addition, the provocative
nature of a handled animal likely plays an important role in
captivating a visitor. In two studies (Povey, 2002; Povey and Rios,
2002), visitors viewed animals three and four times longer while they
were being presented in demonstrations outside of their enclosure with
an educator than while they were on exhibit. Clearly, the use of ambassador animals
in shows or informal presentations is effective in lengthening the
potential time period for learning and overall impact.
animals also provide the opportunity to personalize the learning
experience, tailoring the teaching session to what interests the
visitors. Traditional graphics offer little opportunity for this level
of personalization of information delivery and are frequently not read
by visitors (Churchman, 1985; Johnston, 1998). For example, Povey (2002)
found that only 25% of visitors to an animal exhibit read the
accompanying graphic; whereas, 45% of visitors watching the same animal
handled in an educational presentation asked at least one question and
some asked as many as seven questions. Having an animal accompany the
educator allowed the visitors to make specific inquiries about topics in
which they were interested.
our visitors' knowledge and understanding regarding wildlife and
wildlife conservation is a fundamental goal for many zoo educators
using ambassador animals.
A growing body of evidence supports the validity of using program
animals to enhance delivery of these cognitive messages as well:
Ambassador animals have been clearly demonstrated to increase affective learning and attitudinal change:
Creating positive impressions of
aquarium and zoo animals, and wildlife in general, is crucial to the
fundamental mission of zoological institutions. Although additional
research will help us delve further into this area, the existing
research supports the conclusion that ambassador animals
are an important tool for conveying both cognitive and affective
messages regarding animals and the need to conserve wildlife and wild
contributors to this paper were Karen Povey and Keith Winsten with
valuable comments provided from members of both the Conservation
Education Committee and the Children's Zoo Interest Group.
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