May 24, 2021
- as seen by -John Scott
As wildlife and wild places diminish at a rapid pace, zoo and aquarium professionals must find new and innovative ways to inspire conservation action in guests who come to our facilities. One such way is through the use of “defining moments” during their visit. Defining moments include experiences that might lead guests to develop empathy toward wildlife which may help lead to changes in personal conservation behavior for the better.
I distinctly remember having my own defining moment at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo as a child; while holding a green iguana, I realized that conservation was my ultimate career goal and future life mission. I have been fortunate enough to create some of these moments for guests throughout my career, whether onstage as a free-flight bird trainer, or here at WCS’s New York Aquarium (above, with our penguin encounter program).
Too often we view creating these moments as something that involves extra time, resources, or staffing. We can make a huge impact on guests with very little. Taking a few moments to have a conversation while adding enrichment into exhibits, answering questions while doing end-of-day animal checks, and engaging with kids while cleaning exhibits are all simple and easy ways to create impactful moments that can become part of daily routines.
More people visit zoos and aquariums in the United States than all professional sports combined, and the potential to have a positive impact on wildlife through our guests is endless.
We are rapidly running out of time to save wildlife. By using creativity and good guest interaction principles, we can build defining moments for everyone.