Tuesday 7 May 2024

Zoos make people likelier to behave sustainably?

Researchers at the University of Sheffield and Chester Zoo found that visits to 38 zoos and aquariums around the world made people more likely to behave more sustainably. The kind of behaviour they hope might happen is that people check products for the inclusion of palm oil. Many products are made with the assistance of palm oil as an ingredient. It is found in everything from biscuits to shampoo.

But palm oil production is unsustainable. It is linked to the destruction of orangutan habitat. And this is where zoos can change things ostensibly. It is Sir David Attenborough who once said:
"No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced."
In other words, it is about education. And zoos can be educational. It depends on the quality of the zoo, however. There are some horrendous zoos in developing countries which are simply torture chambers for the animals contained therein. They serve no educational purpose other than to decide that zoos are horrendous places and should be closed.

That isn't the case with many zoos in developed countries and the Sheffield and Chester research team found that interventions had "positive impacts on outcomes in zoo visitors."

The question, though, is whether anything learned at zoos can be translated into behavioural traits in the people who learnt the lessons. So, for instance, there was a "medium effect on knowledge and intentions, a small to medium one on attitudes and a small effect on behaviour" in respect of the impact on the behavioural patterns of people who had gone to a zoo.

I take from that to mean that people left zoos feeling more inspired to have a more sustainable lifestyle and one which is more conducive to conservation but this feeling dissipated and their attitudes dissipated somewhat and so the effect on their behaviour in making tangible changes to the environment was small or perhaps on occasions minimal.

The lesson, there, is that it takes more than pure education the change attitudes. It takes commitment and zoos alone are unlikely to change attitudes sufficiently to boost sustainability and protect nature as far as I am concerned.

Infographic on making zoos better places for big cats

Xavier McNally of the University of Sheffield one of the authors of the study published in the journal Conservation Biology said: 
"Millions of people visit zoos and aquariums globally, and this creates an opportunity to shape people's beliefs about conservation and empower them to help protect the environment by making small changes in their lives."
The University said that the findings showed how zoos and aquariums can help almost 200 countries meet the nature goals they signed up to in 2022. There is a desire to make 30% of the world's oceans and land a protected area by 2030.

Comment: these are laudable objectives but, for me, I don't think that zoos no matter how well-run they are can substantially change attitudes in terms of sustainability and wildlife conservation. My first impression when I see a really good zoo is that the animals should be free, in the wild, living natural lives. I see zoos as places where there are anti-conservation attitudes although zoos defend themselves by saying that their research fosters and encourages and improves conservation.

But there are many negatives which are often undiscussed such as where do zoos get their wild animals from? Do they get them from other zoos? Do they get them through a breeding programme? Or do they get them from the wild; stealing young animals from their mothers? That kind of illegal activity might occur in countries where wildlife protection and animal protection laws are not enforced properly or don't even exist. And that's kind of illegal activity is very anti-conservation.

And I know a bit about the small wild cat species at zoos. Some small wild cat species simply cannot sustain themselves in zoos because the conditions are simply not conducive to their lifestyle (see link above). Some small wild cat species develop diseases quite quickly and die quite quickly. 

Their lifespans are severely curtailed. And these are in good zoos. Think about the bad ones where the environment inside is barren and hopeless. Many zoos are simply cruel places indicative of humankind's very poor attitude towards animals in many parts of the world. I cannot be optimistic about zoos despite the fact that some good goes on in them concerning conservation.

P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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