Study Finds Zoo Visitors Spend Little Time Viewing Animals

Wednesday April 19, 2006

Zoos tout their educational endeavors, but like the person who visits Sunset Zoological Park to "get out of the house," zoos are little more than easy distraction. Dale Marcellini, a curator at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., conducted a study of zoo visitors in which he and several colleagues watched, tracked and listened to more than 700 people over the course of a few summers.

His study concluded that zoos are little more than backdrops for people's other preoccupations. The visitors' conversations dealt not with the animals but with their own lives. When people did remark on an animal, the most common words Marcellini recorded were derogatory.

The study found that almost 60 percent of visitors' time was spent walking from place to place, almost 10 percent was spent eating, and other chunks of time went to resting, bathroom breaks and shopping.

People spent less than eight seconds per snake and one minute with the lions. Pere David's deer, expected to be extinct when the last captive deer dies, rated a mere 27 seconds.

It's not just visitors that are disinterested. Even a former director of the renowned Zoo Atlanta, for example, said of the animals, "They're the last thing I worry about with all the other problems."