Beyond inspiration: Translating zoo and aquarium experiences into conservation behavior

Zoo Biol. 2022 Sep;41(5):398-408. doi: 10.1002/zoo.21716. Epub 2022 Jul 5.


Conservation first appeared as a role for zoos and aquariums in the late 20th century, and over the past few decades has evolved to be central to the mission of modern, accredited zoos and aquariums (henceforth zoos). More recently, promoting proenvironmental behavior is increasingly recognized as an essential means for zoos to achieve their shared conservation mission. To support continued progress throughout the field, there is a need for greater clarity and confidence regarding successful approaches for promoting proenvironmental behavior. A growing body of research into the conservation-related outcomes of zoo experiences, along with findings from behavioral and social sciences, provides a basis for understanding how the relationship zoos have with their audiences can translate into measurable conservation results. By shifting the balance between motivation to act and barriers to actions so that motivation is the greater force, zoos can tip the behavior balance to successfully promote action on behalf of nature and wildlife. Zoo audiences are, on average, more intrinsically motivated to take action on behalf of wildlife than the public at large. By introducing extrinsic motivators and reducing barriers, zoos can set up the circumstances that move motivated individuals to take conservation action. Even individuals who lack intrinsic motivation can be moved to action through sufficiently attractive extrinsic benefits and low barriers. In this paper we present a framework that synthesizes this study and theory on environmental behavior change and offers actionable approaches for zoo and aquarium practitioners.

Keywords: behavior change; promoting proenvironmental behavior; zoos and aquariums.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Animals, Zoo*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources* / methods