Visitor and Public Research

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Visitor and Public Research

AZA conducts substantial research to gain a better understanding of how visits to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are interpreted and valued by their visitors and to assess public opinions on issues of conservation concern. A multi-year study entitled “Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit to a Zoo or Aquarium” measured the impact of a visit to a zoo or aquarium on visitors’ beliefs about conservation, stewardship and their love of animals. Additionally, an extensive public survey entitled “America and the Ocean” measured public awareness, attitudes, and behaviors concerning the ocean, environment, and climate change.

The information gained from these studies provide a detailed understanding of what impact AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have on the conservation attitudes and understanding of their visitors, what the general public views as conservation priorities, and serves as a valuable tool that allows AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to further augment the effectiveness of their conservation education programming.

Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit to a Zoo or Aquarium

AZA partnered with the Institute of Learning Innovation (ILI) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to conduct a three-year, nationwide study that included more than 5,500 visitors from 12 AZA-accredited institutions. This study investigated the impacts zoo or aquarium visits have on the conservation attitudes and understanding of adult visitors and results demonstrate that these visits enhance the understanding of wildlife and the conservation of the places animals live. Key findings indicate that:

  • Visits to accredited zoos and aquariums prompt individuals to reconsider their role in environmental problems and conservation action, and see themselves as part of the solution.
  • Visitors believe zoos and aquariums play an important role in conservation education and animal care.
  • Visitors believe they experience a stronger connection to nature as a result of their visit.
  • Visitors bring with them a higher-than-expected knowledge about basic ecological concepts.
  • Zoos and aquariums support and reinforce the values and attitudes of the visitor.
  • Visitors arrive at zoos and aquariums with specific identity-related motivations and these motivations directly impact how they conduct their visit and what meaning they derive from the experience.

Download the full “Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit to a Zoo or Aquarium” report. 

Download the Excel file to conduct data analysis using the Conservation Attitudes tool.

Download the Excel file to conduct data analysis using the Motivational Identity tool.

 Training workshops on how to utilize the Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter materials are offered periodically. 

Use this Literature Review to find abstracts of articles that address questions that have emerged from the WZAM research.  

Assessing Public Awareness, Attitudes, and Actions: America and the Ocean

AZA, working cooperatively with the Ocean Project, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the National Aquarium in Baltimore, initiated a research survey and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in June 2008 to quantify public awareness, attitudes, and actions concerning the ocean, environment, and climate disruption. This qualitative and quantitative scope of work - thought to be the single most comprehensive public opinion survey ever undertaken on behalf of any environmental concern – utilized the newest technologies in the field of public opinion research to lend a high-confidence analytical context to data, significantly expanded the ocean health knowledge base, and enabled the means to identify and track changes in public actions and attitudes relating to the ocean over time. Key finding indicate that:

  • Knowledge of ocean related topics and issues remains flat and negligible compared to previous studies.
  • Knowledge possessed is superficial and the majority of respondents were unable to articulate valid reasons explaining the importance of the ocean.
  • 34.7% of the respondents could not identify a single ocean-related issue.
  • Respondents do not associate climate disruption with the ocean.
  • Most respondents believe ocean waters bordering the U.S. are healthier, safer, and less endangered than "foreign" waters.
  • Respondents believe that pollution concerns relate to specific species and not the ocean overall.
  • Respondents have little or no awareness of open-ocean issues.
  • Teen and tween populations have a higher level of awareness about ocean-related issues than adults. 

To view the complete results of this study, visit the Ocean Project.  

Visitor Studies Association: Zoo & Aquarium Focused Interest Group

AZA and the Visitors Studies Association (VSA) have jointly established a Zoo & Aquarium Focused Interest Group (ZAFIG) with the following purposes:  

  • To bring together a community of zoo/aquarium professionals who contribute to social science/audience research and evaluation at AZA accredited institutions, with a focus on interpretation, exhibit design and interactive elements, guest services, and the general non-learning aspect of guests (social motivation, construction of a visit, etc.).  
  •  To enhance communication among VSA members who work at AZA accredited institutions. 
Details about the ZAFIG purpose, structure, and membership - including instructions for joining the group - are provided here.