Visitors' perceived value of animal-close encounters at New Zealand zoos and how this relates to modern zoo objectives : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Zoology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

Author: Lankeshwara, Dinushi Nadeeka

Date: 2022

Publisher: Massey University

Type: Thesis

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Massey University


Zoos try to give visitors a memorable experience by offering them highly desirable activities. Zoos simultaneously explore ways of transferring an understanding of their five major objectives: Conservation, education, animal welfare, research, and recreation, to the general public. These zoo roles complement each other to enhance zoos' reputation as conservation centres and their future survival. Animal-close encounters defined in this research as Animal-visitor interactions (AVIs), are a very popular and emerging field of visitor attraction in modern zoo culture. An online survey was conducted among participants of paid AVIs in Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) accredited Zoos in New Zealand to explore their perceived value of the experience, and how their perceptions related to the major zoo objectives. The survey was limited to those who had participated in a paid AVI in New Zealand, and only that eight ZAA-accredited New Zealand Zoos offer paid AVIs. The online survey was distributed mainly through Facebook advertising. A total of 118 responses were received. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics for categorical data, and content analysis of free-text responses. This study identified several categories/subcategories among participants' responses to what they found most memorable and how the encounter added value to their day. The most mentioned category in participant’s free text comments was recreation, indicating that this may have been the primary motivation for engaging in a paid AVI and the component that made the experience the most memorable. Participants’ strong agreement with statements about conservation, on the other hand, appears to indicate that the zoos were getting the conservation message across, and visitors’ attitudes were also developing with the time beyond entertainment. Paid AVIs were a good way of promoting recreation, education, conservation, and animal welfare objectives among participants. But there appeared to be lack of awareness or understanding of the zoo’s research objective among participants. This knowledge might help zoos organise future paid AVI experiences to better meet participants' expectations. It might also assist with marketing and management strategies, bearing in mind that participants' future expectations and behaviours are often based on the perceived value of their experience. The higher the perceived value, the more satisfied participants will be, resulting in likelihood of more recommendations and thus being a better revenue generator for zoos. In addition, the information extracted on participants views towards the major zoo objectives could provide valuable feedback to Zoos on the role of AVIs in promoting these. While this preliminary study offers some useful insights into participants' perceptions of AVIs at New Zealand zoos, the small sample size necessitates more research to better understand participants' motives and best promote the major zoo objectives through these experiences.

Subjects: 410407 Wildlife and habitat management

Copyright: The Author