Survey Says Zoo & Aquarium Visitors Poised to Combat Climate Change

The jury is out. Zoos and aquariums are poised to make a big impact on the environmental education front, and particularly with respect to climate change literacy. Information from a new study suggests that zoos cater to a demographic of individuals who care about the planet and their concern is linked to the connection the visitors have for the animal ambassadors in these living institutions.

(National Geographic Photo Archives)

The final report of a survey submitted and analyzed by the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CLiZEN)–a consortium of AZA zoos and aquariums led by the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo–indicates that zoo-goers are ripe for learning about climate change and contributing to climate change mitigation.

“We have long suspected that people who visit zoos and aquariums care more about environmental issues and that their sense of care is tied to the connection they feel to the animals they see in our institutions. These findings give us the opportunity to help visitors understand climate change and to provide educational information about what they can do to make a difference,” said Alejandro Grajal, Ph.D., senior vice president of conservation and education for CZS.

The results of the survey indicate that zoo and aquarium patrons use their visits to these facilities as opportunities to engage in discourse with their companions about peoples’ relationship to nature and consider zoos to be trustworthy resources for learning about climate change mitigation issues.

Eighty-six percent of patrons surveyed conveyed a strong connection to the animals at these facilities.  This strong sentiment was correlated with a concern for global warming. “Personal connections with animals are strongly related to our visitors’ climate change conviction and concern and their desire to do more to help save the environment,” said Stuart D. Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of CZS. “Zoos and aquariums have an opportunity to foster strong connections between visitors and the animals in our care.

The findings will help zoo and aquarium scientists and educators develop climate change literacy programs for the more than 20 million people who visit these natural history institutions annually.

A free e-book entitled Climate Change Education: A Primer for Zoos and Aquariums is available for download for educators, zoo practitioners, and anyone interested in learning more about climate change at The e-book will be also available through Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBooks app beginning May 4, 2012.

For more information on CLiZEN and the survey, please read my earlier post.

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Meet the Author
With training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife, as well as conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska while (While Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (While executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition he was an ex officio member of council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management. Contact Email: