Effective Education

In 2010, governments agreed to the United Nations Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020, which aims to halt and eventually reverse global biodiversity loss. To build support and momentum for this urgent task, the United Nations General Assembly declared the period 2011–2020 to be the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. For this initiative, five strategic goals and 20 ambitious targets were defined, collectively known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Their purpose is to inspire broad-based action in support of biodiversity. The very first target (Target 1 of Strategic Goal A) states that "by 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably".


To achieve such a policy target, a major global effort from governments as well as civil society organisations is required. Amongst the wide array of non-governmental organisations officially committed to this effort are accredited zoos and aquariums working through their unifying global organisation, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). On educational matters, WAZA closely collaborates with the International Zoo Educators Association (IZE). The potential of zoos and aquariums to contribute to Aichi Biodiversity Target 1 is worth investigating given their global popularity. Zoos and aquariums reportedly attract over 700 million visits worldwide every year [1]. So, can these visits serve a wider public engagement purpose by promoting awareness of biodiversity and sustainable behaviour?


The rhetoric from zoos and aquariums indicates that they see themselves as valuable providers of pro-biodiversity public education. A study analysing US zoos' mission statements found that 131 out of 136 specifically referenced education; conservation per se was only mentioned in 118 [2]. Clearly, zoos and aquariums justify their existence at least partly on educational grounds that directly relate to Aichi Biodiversity Target 1. The majority of zoos and aquariums offer engagement and learning opportunities, but how effective are these educational interventions? Surprisingly few studies have attempted to measure awareness-raising and learning impacts on zoo and aquarium visitors on a large scale.


WAZA is an official partner of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) during the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. A global impact evaluation of public biodiversity knowledge was conducted both to address the aforementioned research gap and to aid CBD signatories in their efforts to evaluate Aichi Biodiversity Target 1. This study [3] provides the most compelling evidence to date that zoo and aquarium visits can (and do) contribute to increasing the number of people who understand biodiversity and the actions they can take to help protect biodiversity. As such, the study gives credence to the claims that zoos and aquariums can be effective providers of pro-biodiversity public education, thereby making a positive contribution to Aichi Biodiversity Target 1.


However, knowledge increases are not necessarily a reliable predictor of a related change in behaviour. In the 2014 edition of the WAZA Magazine, edited in collaboration with IZE, we have compiled various conceptual and practical approaches to evaluating the educational impact of visiting a zoo or aquarium. Moreover, we present several educational initiatives implemented by zoos and aquariums specifically aimed at pro-biodiversity behavioural change in their visiting public. As a step towards achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 1, these contributions collectively strive to make environmental education more effective. As called for in the United Nations Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020, we hope that the 2014 edition of the WAZA Magazine will inspire broad-based action in support of biodiversity by the world zoo and aquarium community and beyond.


Please click on the following link to download the WAZA Magazine 15: Towards Effective Environmental Education (1.7 MB).  



[1] Gusset, M. & Dick, G. (2011) Zoo Biology 30: 566–569.

[2] Patrick, P. G. et al. (2007) Journal of Environmental Education 38: 53–60.

[3] Gusset, M. et al. (2014) WAZA Magazine 15: 14–17.

  • Cover WAZA Magazine 15
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  • Effective Education

    Effective Education

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