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Keywords:

  • environmental enrichment;
  • visitor learning;
  • visitor studies

Abstract

A debate exists among modern zoo staff as to whether or not the addition of un-naturalistic enrichment takes away from, or even defeats, the educational messages designers are trying to incorporate in naturalistic exhibits. A visitor study was conducted at the Central Park Zoo's polar bear exhibit in order to determine whether or not the type of enrichment in an enclosure actually alters guest perceptions. Visitors were exposed to one of two enrichment treatments in the bear enclosure: Naturalistic or Un-naturalistic. The results of this study suggest that enrichment type did not alter the perceptions of visitors. However, it did identify some of the different ways adults and youths perceive animals and zoos. Additionally, the study highlighted the varying perceptions individuals have of the concept of polar bears vs. their perceptions of the captive individuals at the Central Park Zoo. Implications for enrichment usage and exhibit design are discussed. Zoo Biol 28:292–306, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.