August 15, 2019

Becoming True Agents for Change: Mobilizing Our Audiences to Take Meaningful Action for Conservation

Last month, we reported on the recent UN report estimating that more than one million species are threatened with extinction, offering this as an urgent call to action for all zoos and aquariums to further engage in conservation. 

However, what serves as a call to action for those of us in the profession may be less effective with our guests. Even we find those numbers overwhelming, but for the general public, they are not only overwhelming, but hard or impossible to relate to, and often the opposite of a call to action.

What we know about human behavior is that people are less responsive to messages about large numbers, and much more responsive to the story about “Fred.” Think of your response to hearing about millions impacted by drought, political unrest, or famine. Unless you’re unusual, until it’s personal, until we’re hearing about it from someone we know and trust, it generally remains data rather than something that touches your heart. For example, the current Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is worrying to all, but for those of us connected to the GRACE Center in the region, who know individual people and gorillas there, we’re terrified. 

This is where you come in. Our zoos and aquariums can, and should, be the trusted voice that makes our current extinction crisis personal for our guests–that reach their hearts. Not in a shaming way, but in a way that inspires people to care about wildlife and to act on its behalf. We have the animals and we have employees that can share their passion about animals, the work you do to care for them, and how they can become involved too. 

The good news is that we now understand many of the principles that help us to affect conservation action. That understanding is growing as more AZA members actively work in this area. At last year’s AZA meeting, we shared some of the ways that our members are acting as change agents. This year we’re continuing the conversation with the session “Becoming True Agents for Change: Mobilizing Our Audiences to Take Meaningful Action for Conservation” on Wednesday, September 11th from 8:00 – 9:30 a.m., that I’m helping to moderate with Robin Keith from San Diego Zoo Global. Join us and become that agent for change. 

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Dr. Frederick Lahodny

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