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Zoo, aquarium visitors more concerned about climate change, says survey

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Saint Paul, MN - People who visit zoos and aquariums are more concerned about climate change than other Americans and are willing to take action to help because they feel a connection with animals. The findings are in the final report, "Global Climate Change as Seen by Zoo and Aquarium Visitors," analyzed by the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CLiZEN), which includes Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

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Researchers surveyed more than 7,000 zoo and aquarium visitors at 15 accredited zoos and aquariums around the country and found that visitors are more concerned about climate change than the general public. For example, 64 percent of zoo and aquarium visitors say they are concerned or alarmed about global warming, compared to only 39 percent of the general public. Also, 35 percent of the general public report being disengaged, doubtful, or dismissive with regard to global warming versus only 17 percent of zoo and aquarium visitors. Non-visitor attitudes were collected via a survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

The survey also suggests that visitors' attitudes, behaviors and concerns vary with their sense of connection to animals and nature, and 86 percent of visitors report feeling a strong sense of connection with the animals they see at a zoo or aquarium.

"Through our opportunity to connect visitors and animals we want to cultivate an appreciation of the environment and the desire to take action against global warming," said Michelle Furrer, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory director. "Our visitors are clearly concerned about climate change, and these survey findings give us the opportunity to help visitors adopt greener lifestyles and reduce their environmental footprint."

Nearly two-thirds of surveyed zoo and aquarium visitors believe that human actions are related to global warming, and the majority of visitors think that global warming will harm them personally, as well as future generations. These findings suggest that zoo and aquarium visitors are a prime audience for climate change education messages.

Other results showed that zoos and aquariums provide visitors with socially supportive contexts for discussions about animals and connections to nature. Compared to the general public, zoo and aquarium visitors are more likely to have friends who share their views on global warming. Visitors who are alarmed or concerned about global warming use zoo and aquarium visits as a chance to talk to companions about their relationships to nature, and they view zoos and aquariums as trustworthy places to find out how to help reduce the effects of global warming.

"By fostering constructive discussions about climate change, our visitors can share ideas with friends and family about how to address human impact on the environment. The more people talk about the growing concern of climate change, the more positive behavior changes will become the norm," said Furrer.

The survey findings will contribute to a new program being designed to reach more than 20 million zoo visitors annually with innovative ways to help people understand and take action to address climate change. A free e-book entitled Climate Change Education: A Primer for Zoos and Aquariums is available for download for educators, zoo practitioners, and anyone interested in learning more about climate change at www.lulu.com. The e-book will be also available through Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBooks app beginning May 4.

Dr. Alejandro Grajal of the Chicago Zoological Society is leading the team of principal investigators that are developing the national initiative. He is joined by principal investigators Susan R. Goldman, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology and education and co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Michael E. Mann, Ph.D., professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. The partnership is joined by experts in conservation psychology, the conservation organization Polar Bears International, and an external advisory board that includes the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The survey was fielded at 15 zoos and aquariums, including Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco; Brookfield Zoo, Ill.; Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, Powell, Ohio; Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, Saint Paul, Minn.; Indianapolis Zoo, Ind.; John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago; Monterey Bay Aquarium, Calif.; National Aquarium, Baltimore, Md.; New England Aquarium, Boston; Oregon Zoo, Portland; Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Pa.; Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, R.I.; Louisville Zoo, Ky.; Toledo Zoo, Ohio; and Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, Wash. The majority of participating zoos are partners in the implementation of the CLiZEN project. The survey is part of a $1.2 million planning grant that CZS received from the National Science Foundation Program on Climate Change Education and another grant provided by the Boeing Company.

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