The Future of Zoos: A New Model for Cultural Institutions


  • John Fraser,

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      John Fraser ( is director of the Public Research and Evaluation Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society Institute, 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, NY 10460. He is vice president of programs for the Visitor Studies Association, a graduate student and an adjunct faculty member at Antioch New England Graduate School.

  • Dan Wharton

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      Dan Wharton ( is the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's “City Zoos”: Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and the Queens Zoo. He is executive editor of Zoo Biology and is the chairman of two American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plans: the Western Lowland Gorilla SSP and the Snow Leopard SSP. He is an adjunct scientist and associate professor at Columbia University.


Abstract  Over the last 30 years, the international zoo movement has gradually adopted conservation as its mantra. World-class zoos have invested substantially in species conservation and animal research as part of their involvement in wildlife conservation. However, zoo exhibit interpretation, policy development, and strategic planning are yet to be organized around a well-developed agenda with a clear set of conservation objectives. As museums increasingly redefine their role in society to speak about alternative futures for living with nature, zoos have the potential to become much more focused cultural change agents, potentially crafting a new vision for how society can live in a productive relationship with the world's remaining biodiversity. This article argues for an activist approach in which institutions with living collections would take on unique conservation tasks including scientifically grounded promotion of conservation values.