Changes in Zoo Visitor Perceptions of Veterinary Care and Welfare Following Viewing of Media Stories on Zoo Animal Health
Zoo animal health stories are increasingly common in the media, with institutions recognizing that these behind-the-scenes public relations opportunities highlight the quality of animal care. Previous research has shown that visitors are more likely to have positive impressions of zoological parks and take conservation actions if they speak with animal care staff or have up close animal encounters.1,2 We hypothesized that video media related to veterinary care in a zoo would, (1) educate visitors and (2) positively increase their opinions of zoo animal care and welfare. Zoo visitors (n=127) were randomly selected to complete a survey, watch one of five different video segments (2–6 min duration) about veterinary care of animals at Brookfield Zoo (BFZ), and then answer an identical set of questions. Video segments focusing on advanced veterinary care for rhinoceroses, lions, and orangutans were produced by BFZ and Chicago evening news programs. Survey questions used a sliding seven-point scale. Across all videos, 11/13 questions revealed significant positive change (p<0.05) in visitor perceptions. Ratings of veterinary care (p<0.0001), animal welfare (p<0.0001), the role of zoos in conservation (p=0.0002), and visit satisfaction (p=0.0187) all improved after video viewing. A majority of respondents (78.0% initial, 89.7% post-video) overestimated how many veterinarians were employed at BFZ and only 46.5% of respondents were able to estimate the collection size within 1,000 animals. Media stories about zoo veterinary care may represent a powerful tool to engage the public, improve perceptions of animal care and welfare, and share important conservation messages.
The authors thank Sondra Katzen, Leah Rippe, Jerry Luebke, and Lance Miller for their input on this project.
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2. Swanagan JS. Factors influencing zoo visitors’ conservation attitudes and behavior. J Environ Educ. 2000:31(4):26–31.