Revived discussions of the true educational value of zoos (with the import of the 17 Swazi elephants into US zoos under the guise of education and conservation) a study published in 2014 is getting fresh looks.This was the first study done to evaluate the educational impact zoos have on children (ages 7-15.) 1,742 children who went on a guided tour of the zoo and 1,097 children who went through the zoo with either a parent or a teacher were part of the study. Children were questioned, and asked to do drawings both before and after their visit.
For clarity sake, this study judged the educational impact on viewing all species, not just elephants, which we believe zoos cannot give a proper representation of. The study showed that, even with a zoo guide giving an educational tour, the positive learning benefit was only 41%, and in this same group there was an 11% negative learning experience. This means the majority of children displayed a less accurate understanding of a wild animals existence and environment after their zoo visit than they did before going into the zoo.
For the unguided children, which still had the company of either a parent or a teacher to educate them using zoo information and placards and classroom materials, there was a 34% positive learning benefit and an 16% negative learning experience.
So, essentially, if you subtract the instances where children came away from the zoo with less accurate knowledge of the animals housed there, from those who came away having learned something positive, less than ¼ of the 2,839 children studied, that visited the London Zoo, learned something beneficial.
This is something we have witnessed for ourselves in regards to what people learn about elephants in captivity. When animals are kept in inappropriate, inaccurate enclosures, fed an unnatural diet and not kept in the correct social groups, you can’t possibly expect people to walk away with the correct impression of who these animals are. Claims are made that zoos develop a deeper sense of appreciation and therefore an increased desire to help and support conservation projects, but this is simply not true for the majority. In fact, it is our experience that the opposite is true. The more these animals are available for the public, the more our society believes that they exist for our entertainment, which is the core zoo experience. It only serves to further diminish their inherent value to our world.
This reality is compounded when you deal with the higher intelligence species. We talk about elephants because this is where our experience is and we know that elephants in zoos and circuses are only a shell of who they truly are. In order to truly educate the public on who elephants are, they need to be able to express themselves fully, they need to behave as they would in nature-which includes wandering for many miles each day and foraging for food for 15-20 hours a day, choosing their own pathway, uninterrupted.
When people leave elephants exhibits not knowing that there are Asian and African elephants, and that they eat grass for the bulk of their diet- there is obviously something terribly wrong. Elephants deserve better. And with new technology like this and this it seems more and more people are realizing zoos are an archaic form of entertainment and that a more compassionate future for animals offers improved interactions.