I believe zoos and aquariums play an important role in fostering cultures of care and conservation and the importance of this role is growing as more species and natural habitats are threatened. I have visited many zoos throughout my life and my feelings about zoos and aquariums along with my conservation actions have built over time. As a child it was about marveling at the giants and the babies. As an adult it is about the care the animals are getting, the conservation efforts of the institution and yes still giants and babies.
Of course events and special promotions get attention and drive increased visits and play an important role in getting people to walk through the gates, but that is only the first step. As I reflect on what causes a transformation once inside, two things have made the biggest impact: to see the animals in a natural habitats with adequate space, and the opportunity to listen to and speak directly with the passionate keepers that care for the animals.
Seeing animal in a natural environment evokes a very different feeling of peace and opens the ability to learn and want to protect nature. I simply spend more time there. In opposition, seeing animals in a cage-like structure just makes you feel sad and raises anxiety. Each makes you care but one extends that care to wanting to conserve natural habitats and opens us to learning. When you are able to then connect with the keeper you are moved to another level of caring and open to opportunities to take conservation action.