Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Charles S. Hausman

Department Affiliation

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Second Advisor

Ryan L. Sharp

Department Affiliation

Recreation and Park Administration

Third Advisor

James R. Bliss

Department Affiliation

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


Changes in climate and the corresponding environmental issues are major concerns facing the world today. Human consumption, which is leading the rapid depletion of the earth’s finite resources and causing a dramatic loss of biodiversity, is largely to blame (Pearson, Lowry, Dorrian, & Litchfield, 2014). American zoos and aquariums are positioned to create positive experiential relationships between zoo tourists and animals that have the potential to positively change the zoo tourists’ conservation behaviors. Challenges to changing the conservation behaviors of zoo tourists are many. One particularly important challenge is conservation/environmental education. Zoos and aquariums aim to provide effective and quality environmental education to the public, as well as a framework for conservation ethics (Ballantyne, Packer, Hughes, & Dierking, 2007; Falk et al., 2007). Some research suggests presentations combining educational talks with animal training, or other multilayered interpretive animal presentations, are associated with greater learning (Visscher, Snider, & Vander Stoep, 2009; Weiler & Smith, 2009). The immense amount of effort put into designing zoo education programs that allow for meaningful and intimate interactions between tourists and animals is undertaken to produce behavior change in the zoo tourist.

Behind the scenes tours are one of the multilayered interpretive presentations that have the ability to impact visitors’ intrinsic existence value of wildlife and ecosystems. This study aimed to examine how more intimate interactions with animals in zoos may lead to an increased sense of conservation. Zoo education research has gained momentum only in the last few years (Ogden & Heimlich, 2009), and research into behind the scenes education programming is just beginning.