I think in order for people to feel a sense of connectedness to animals in zoos and aquariums, they need to have more interactions with the animals in their “natural” environment. I think a great example of this is the Heart of Africa and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park where many animals coexist in the massive enclosure, much like they would in nature. Visitors can view these animals on a monorail that goes around the enclosure or they can even take a safari ride into the exhibit and interact with rhinos and giraffes by feeding them. These up-close interactions are going to stick with visitors and make them share their experience with others. Obviously, this is not possible with many of the animals that are in zoos or aquariums but where possible, it should be implemented.
In addition, have exhibits that show visitors the negative consequences that their littering or extreme water consumption has on these animals and their habitats and show them an alternative to those actions—read your magazines and newspapers online, take a reusable water bottle with you, turn off the water when brushing your teeth! You never know what information is going to resonate with someone and cause them to look at the work differently.
Finally, I think more needs to be invested into children’s zoos and areas at aquariums. When I was a kid, there were so many activities in the Children’s Zoo that you could spend all day there learning, talking to zookeepers, and seeing animals up close. Now, it’s a ghost town except for the face painters and caricature artists. While these people may be fun, they do not fall in line with the objective of the zoo. The younger you can get someone thinking about ways to improve the environment, the more likely they will be to carry that attitude into their adult lives.