Inspiring Conservation Action

Research Highlights

  • We developed activity stations about bird friendly ® coffee certification and combating the illegal wildlife trade, including general information and specific conservation actions.
  • We interviewed participants to understand how these activities and messaging affected their motivation to take action to support wildlife conservation.
  • Messages about what visitors could do as individuals resonated more strongly with visitors than messages about what organizations are doing to support conservation.


Previous research has demonstrated that zoo and aquarium visitors are concerned about wildlife and feel hopeful that conservation efforts will have a positive impact on Earth’s biodiversity. We studied how guided activities with action-focused conservation messages affected visitors’ intentions to take conservation action themselves.


  • We developed activity stations about bird friendly® coffee and combating the illegal wildlife trade where visitors could participate in a hands-on activity and discussion with a trained live interpreter. Interpreters delivered one of three types of conservation messaging as they guided visitors through the activity. In the individual action condition, interpreters shared actions that individual people could take on behalf of wildlife, such as buying bird friendly ® certified coffee or adopting, rather than buying pets.
  • In the WCS action condition interpreters shared some WCS-led conservation activities, such as supporting farmers who use bird friendly practices and protecting habitat from poachers. In the individual + WCS action condition, interpreters shared information on both individual and WCS-led actions.
  • After visitors interacted with the trained interpreter, a researcher interviewed the group about what the group’s favorite part of the station was, how the station was relevant to them, and if they learned about any conservation actions at the station. Researchers also interviewed groups who did not participate in the activities to serve as a control.

Major Findings

  • Messages with an individual action tended to be more memorable than the WCS action messages. This finding emphasizes the importance of personal relevance in any message, but also openness to the topics and solutions. For the activity station about the illegal wildlife trade, special attention was given to the development of the station to ensure messages were culturally sensitive and respectful while also being relevant to visitors.
  • People who participated in the activities felt more inspired to take action for wildlife than visitors who did not participate, highlighting the importance of having space for visitors to engage about wildlife conservation strategies.


Rank, S.J., Nageotte, N.L., Pletcher, N., & Jackson, M. Educating the public about illegal wildlife trade: Commonalities in investigating messages for visitors. Journal of Museum Education, 48(3), 315-328.

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