As the largest developing country in the world, China is facing many environmental challenges. Environmental education is now recognized as one of the critical components of preserving life on Earth and a central goal for modern zoos. As important tourist destinations and conservation centres for animals, environmental education in zoos can inspire audiences to understand and appreciate wildlife, care about the future of the natural world, and make more environmentally responsible decisions. To begin to address environmental problems in China, zoos and aquariums need to design educational programs for their Chinese visitors. In order to develop effective education programs and visitor experiences it is very important to know and understand their target audience.
This research aims to understand the personal context for learning in relation to Chinese zoo visitors, and how this impacts on their receptiveness to conservation messages in order to better inform conservation education programs in Chinese zoos.
This study focused on Chinese visitors aged 12 years and older using a survey questionnaire. A total of 455 Chinese zoo visitors completed surveys at the Chengdu Panda Base and Chengdu Zoo to enable comparisons to be made between sites.
The research findings indicated that Chinese zoo visitors were interested in environmental issues and would like to learn more about conservation; they only had general knowledge about conservation, and were unable to suggest any specific conservation actions they could personally undertake. Results from this study suggest that all aspects of the education programs and experience should focus on helping visitors understand the role of zoos, connect them emotionally to nature, provide specific conservation actions and information about the impact of their behaviours on animals and nature, and enhance personal responsibility. In particular, the education programs and experience in zoos should aim to raise the visitors’ environmental interests and awareness of animals and their habitat.