Date of Award

8-10-2005

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Richard B. Cohen

Second Advisor

William J. Leary

Third Advisor

David Moffett

Abstract

An investigation of interpretive graphics was conducted in 2005 at two mid-sized AZA-accredited zoos, Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida and Knoxville Zoo, Knoxville, Tennessee. The Lowry Park Zoo study investigated signs at a red-tailed hawk and sandhill crane exhibit. Combination signs and wordless signs were more effective helping visitors see animals, increasing holding time, and number of engagements than treatments of no signs, or signs with words only. A second study, at Knoxde Zoo, tested combination and wordless signs in a children's zoo, investigating 31 signs at a 3.5-acre exhibit. Comparisons of visitors seeing the animals/using interactive exhibit elements, holding time, and engagement activities, showed wordless signs were more effective than combination signs.

Differences in gender ratio, age, group she, and other demographics were not significant. Visit motivation differed between zoos, with visitors from Lowry Park Zoo more often articulating reason for a visit as wanting to see animals. Visitors at Knoxville Zoo most often said they wanted to spend time with family and friends. Differences in potential for naturalist intelligence were probably related to local practices rather than to innate differences in naturalist intelligence. The number of communities in Florida that regulate pet ownership and provide lawn service could account for the lower number of people who have pets and plants.

At both institutions, behaviors supported educational theories. The importance of signs as advanced organizers was shown where signs were removed at the bird exhibit at Lowry Park Zoo, with fewer visitors seeing the animals. Social interaction was noted at both zoos, with intra- and inter-group conversations observed. If naturalist intelligence is necessary to see animals, visitors run a continuum. Some are unable to see animals with signs and assistance from other visitors; others see animals with little difficulty. The importance of honing naturalist intelligence was best stated by a Lowry Park Zoo visitor who commented, "No one has ever shown me how to see animals." The potential for honing naturalist intelligence is the key finding of the study and should be considered as zoos work to connect their visitors with the creatures in their collections.

Included in

Zoology Commons

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