The United Nations Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 is a key initiative within global efforts to halt and eventually reverse the loss of biodiversity. The very first target of this plan states that ‘by 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably’.
Zoos and aquariums worldwide, attracting more than 700 million visits every year, could potentially make a positive contribution to this target. However, a global evaluation of the educational impacts of visits to zoos and aquariums is entirely lacking in the existing literature. To address this gap, we conducted a large scale impact evaluation study, using a pre- and post-visit repeated measures survey design, to evaluate biodiversity literacy – biodiversity understanding and knowledge of actions to help protect biodiversity in zoo and aquarium visitors. Our findings are based on the largest and most international study of zoo and aquarium visitors ever conducted worldwide; in total, more than 6,000 visitors to 30 zoos and aquariums around the globe participated in the study.
The study’s main finding is that aggregate biodiversity understanding and knowledge of actions to help protect biodiversity both significantly increased over the course of zoo and aquarium visits. There was an increase from pre-visit (69.8%) to post‑visit (75.1%) in respondents demonstrating at least some positive evidence of biodiversity understanding. Similarly, there was an increase from pre‑visit (50.5%) to post‑visit (58.8%) in respondents that could identify a pro-biodiversity action that could be achieved at an individual level.
This study provides the most compelling evidence to date that zoo and aquarium visits can contribute to increasing the number of people who understand biodiversity and know actions they can take to help protect biodiversity.