New Scientific Analysis Debunks Zoos’ Education Claims
An Animal Rights Article from


In Defense of Animals (IDA)
May 2010

A new scientific critique questions claims by zoos and aquariums to be educating the public, finding that a key study conducted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is fatally flawed in its conclusions. IDA is calling on zoos and aquariums to stop misleading the public and admit they have no evidence that zoos have a positive educational impact.

“There is no compelling evidence to date that zoos and aquariums promote attitude changes, education or interest in conservation in their visitors, despite claims to the contrary,” stated lead author Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University and expert in dolphin and whale intelligence.

The new study entitled “Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors?”, published in the peer-reviewed journal Society & Animals, is a critical evaluation of a 2007 non-peer reviewed study widely used by the AZA as evidence of zoos’ and aquariums’ education impact. Marino’s analysis found the AZA study to be so methodologically flawed as to be un-interpretable at best. Marino and her co-authors found at least six major weaknesses in the AZA study, questioning the accuracy of zoos’ claimed educational impact.

“As the public becomes more aware of animal welfare issues, zoos and aquariums are desperately trying to justify holding animals for public display, especially those in extremely inappropriate conditions,” says Catherine Doyle, IDA elephant campaign director. “This important study debunks the myth that displaying wild animals in unnatural and inadequate exhibits educates the public and promotes conservation.”

Animals such as orcas and elephants have long been the focus of intense controversy because zoos and aquariums cannot provide the space, social networks and natural conditions these animals need. Inadequate exhibits cause these animals to suffer debilitating captivity-related conditions and die prematurely.

Marino’s study is particularly relevant following the recent death of an orca trainer at SeaWorld, which is AZA accredited. A Congressional committee will hold an oversight hearing on marine mammals in captivity next week that IDA hopes will lead to stricter regulations. Marino will be testifying at that hearing.

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