Date of Award

5-2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management

Advisor

Bixler, Robert D

Committee Member

Baldwin , Elizabeth D

Committee Member

Jodice , Laura W

Abstract

Over the last 30 years, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have shifted focus from recreation to become centers of research, conservation and education. As awareness of environmental issues increases, zoos around the world have stepped up the challenge of engaging their visitors in learning experiences to enhance knowledge and awareness of conservation initiatives and eventually evoke action. Evaluation of these educational programs has also shifted from assessing whether a program works to determining for whom it works and why. The purpose of this study is to explore the role of locus of control, motivation, previous life experiences, personal interest and knowledge on the effectiveness of a zoo program designed to stimulate environmentally-responsible behavior (ERB). A web-based survey and mail-back paper survey were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the education program in terms of environmentally-responsible behavior and understand what visitor characteristics influence an individual to participate in ERB. Responses were received from 546 visitors. The survey instrument included an environmentally-themed locus of control scale, questions to understand visit motivation, various assessments of previous life experiences, a personal interest and perceived knowledge scale, and an objective knowledge test. To evaluate these variables in terms of environmentally-responsible behavior, a 21 item list of action behaviors was complied from conservation messages around the zoo.
Results indicated significant positive relationships between environmentally-responsible behavior and several independent variables including internal locus of control, educational motivation, attendance at educational attractions, owning a variety of pets, personal interest, higher perceived and objective knowledge of animal and conservation issues, and attendance at special summer exhibits. Program implementation limited the study results due to ineffective distribution of program brochures and less than ideal sign placement. The results indicate that no one variable is so highly correlated that it alone could influence environmentally-responsible behavior. Rather it is a combination of many environmental and conservation-related experiences that prepares a zoo visitor for a meaningful learning experience. Also, Affirmation of environmental attitudes and beliefs plays a large role in encouraging visitors to continue acting in an environmentally-responsible way.

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