I think zoos and aquariums foster cultures of care and conservation when they are mindful about the educational opportunities that they provide the public. I think the opportunities to see animals up close that one might not ever see in the wild can instill a sense of aww and curiosity. This feeling can lead people to be more connected and curious about nature. On top of that when zoos and aquariums offer rich educational experiences that connect people to the benefits of the animals and the challenges they face, people may feel an increased amount of connection and concern for nature. For example, I still remember visiting the Monterey Aquarium as a child. Part of this is because of the thoughtfulness that went into the animal habitats and displays. Another reason for this is because of the educational opportunities. I still remember watching divers swim with shark, petting a manta ray, and watching a snorkler doing fieldwork. I left that visit feeling very connected to nature and concerned for the wellbeing of our planet. On the other hand sometimes zoos are so dilapidated that it can convey a lack of caring or concern for the animals, which could distance people from their responsibility to care for them. I recently visited a zoo that was full of empty habitats because the animals had all died. I left that experience feeling somewhat less connected to nature and reluctant to return. I also wonder about how zoos might create a sentiment that animals exist for our own benefit or entertainment. I don't have direct experience with this; however, I'm curious if this is an experience some visitors have.
Published on 4 May 2019