One typical argument that zoos use to justify their existence is that they educate the public about the natural world and the dangers faced by many species across the globe. However, is this really true? Or is it simply an excuse to keep animal exhibits for entertainment?

Zoos have long given the false impression that they provide a useful educational role. However in reality this is very far from the truth. For example, a study published in 2014 found that of over 2,800 children surveyed following visits to London Zoo, the majority demonstrated no positive learning outcomes at all.

Now, a new study carried out by researchers from Chester Zoo has provided yet more evidence that zoos fail to educate their visitors on conservation issues, despite often claiming the contrary. The article, published in the Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, concluded that zoo visitors ‘rarely discussed topics such as conservation or wild habitats’ and that ‘very few visitors demonstrated any substantial learning about animals or conservation’ during their visit.

When visitors to Chester Zoo were asked if they learnt anything from a particular exhibit, 44.1% replied that they did not. Of those who replied with a ‘yes’ and provided further detail, only 23.2% ‘could provide a truly factual statement about what they had learned’, whilst a staggering 76.8% ‘gave answers that did not demonstrate a definite gain of knowledge.’ Analysis of visitors’ conversations in walk-through exhibits in the zoo revealed that ‘comments relating to conservation were made in only 2.3% of observations.’

Misleading claims about educational benefits are commonplace throughout the zoo industry. Shockingly, Sussex-based Drusillas Zoo even gave out false information on the conservation status of their animals. Freedom for Animals researchers uncovered that of the 20 species classed by the zoo as endangered on its website, only six of these animals were, in actual fact, endangered in the wild.

The role of zoos is now firmly in the public spotlight with many, including Freedom for Animals, calling for their abolition. There are now so many ways to learn about the amazing animals who we share this planet with that don’t involve their exploitation. The clock is ticking for the out-dated zoo industry.