Visitor Studies at Woodland Park Zoo

Summer 2009, 2010 Visitor Studies

Summary of Results

November 18, 2010

Woodland Park Zoo

Seattle, WA

Beth Kelley, Western Washington University

Supervisor: Kathryn Owen, Education Research

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Introduction

I performed this research in the summers of 2009 and 2010 in order to determine how visitors interact with the gorillas and their exhibit, and what can be done to enhance the experience for visitors, as well as the amount and type of knowledge gained during their visit to the gorilla exhibit.

Methods

In the summer of 2009 I performed observational studies, and in 2010 performed individual interviews

Summer 2009:

I and other volunteers performed unobtrusive observations on 100 visitor groups in the gorilla exhibit from 26 June to 9 August 2009, during the busiest time of year for the zoo. The volunteers recorded time spent by visitors in the exhibit overall, as well as time spent in different areas of the exhibit; comments made by the visitors; use of signs, videos or a presentation; and visitor characteristics such as group type (adults only vs. family, etc.), and estimated age of children. The volunteers also documented visibility of the gorillas and their behavior during the visitor’s stay in the exhibit.

The exhibit was broken up into four zones or viewpoints:

Zone 1: The bronze sculpture of the gorilla family

Zone 2: The viewing window for Troop Two. Signage is located mostly to the right of the viewing window.

Zone 3: The overlook into Troop One’s enclosure. This viewpoint provides limited visibility, and one main sign.

Zone 4: The main viewing window for Troop One. Signage is located predominantly against the wall opposite the viewing window.

Zones 2, 3, and 4 were the main areas of data collection. Zone 1 (the gorilla statue) was often excluded from much of the analyses of visitor behavior because this zone is partially separate from the rest of the exhibit. Gorillas are also not visible from this viewpoint. Length of time spent in Zone 1 was recorded, but not details on conversations because of the difficulty in hearing visitor comments or noting specific behavior.

Summer 2010

I conducted over 100 interviews with visitors as they were exiting the gorilla exhibit. They were asked a series of questions, and received a pencil or sticker as an incentive to complete the survey. Part of the interview including the use of an emotions wheel, where participants were asked to identify any feelings they felt in response to seeing the gorillas.

Demographics

Summer 2009

Visitor Demographics:

Visitors were grouped into different categories based on estimated age of the group members. Families – defined as an adult accompanied by at least one child under the age of 18 – were the most common type of visiting group. This was followed in frequency by adult-only groups (which included adult visitors with a child estimated to be over 18), and then teen groups. No field trip groups were recorded. One group of young adults visiting for a sketching class was recorded.

Group types and frequencies

 

Percent
Family with kids under 18

71%

Adult only group

22%

teen group

7%

Total

100%

Summer 2010

The group types were very similar to those identified in 2009, making the data taken during 2009 and 2010 comparable. The group types were most commonly:

  1. Family: 67%
  2. Adult group or couple: 31%

Almost a third of people (29%) who answered the survey were members of Woodland Park Zoo.

Almost another third (27%) said this was their very first visit to Woodland Park Zoo.

For those who had visited the zoo previously, about half came once a year or less. About a fifth came between 1 and 4 times a year, and very few came more than four visits a year, although some of the more frequent visitors came as often as twice a week or more.

Frequency of visits

# of respondents

Less than one visit/yr

46

1 – 4 visits/yr

23

More than 4 visits/yr

4

RESULTS

Foot Traffic

The amount of visitors or overall “Busy-ness” was also measured in both 2009 and 2010

Busy-ness (2010)

score description Examples frequency

1

slow only one or a few visitors at window, quiet

15%

2

moderate the window is half-full, some noise

35%

3

busy viewing window is full, noisy

53%

Average

2.3

Median

3

Time spent in exhibit

In 2009:

  • Visitors spent an average of nine minutes in the gorilla exhibit.
  • 72% of groups viewed both troops during their visit.

Gorilla Behavior (measured in 2009)

Gorillas were visible to visitors from at least one viewing area 100% of the time during observations.

Gorilla visibility

Zone 2 Zone 3 Zone 4
Gorillas were visible n=87 n=28 n=87
%

86%

27.70%

86%

The gorilla’s behavior had an impact on a visitor’s length of stay.

  • Visitors spent significantly more time at viewpoints 2 and 3 if the gorillas were interacting with each other; at viewpoint 4 the difference was just short of significance.
  • Visibility of the gorillas was only a factor for how long visitors stayed at one viewpoint, in Zone 3.
  • Visitors spent significantly more time at all of the viewpoints if the animals were eating.

Behaviors that involved interacting with their environment such as playing or climbing trees did not seem to have a significant impact on length of visitors’ stay. This is surprising since visitors have previously reported that the baby gorilla, Uzuma, was a favorite part of their visit. Uzuma was also a large source of the data from Zone 2 involving interaction with the exhibit such as climbing and playing.

Gorillas in Troop 2 have developed the habit of regurgitating and eating their food. This behavior was recorded by volunteers eight times. Visitors reacted negatively to this behavior, but there was not a significant change in length of stay from this viewpoint. Some members of Troop 1 have a habit of eating feces. This was only recorded six times, and also did not have a significant effect on length of a visitor’s stay. These findings may be skewed due to the small sample size involving these behaviors.

2010 Emotional response

The interview asked a series of questions about visitor’s reaction to gorillas, including their emotional response. Visitors were asked if they had an emotional reaction to seeing the gorillas, and if they could identify it on a wheel labeled with different emotions.

Emotional responses (allowed to choose more than one):

  • Happy: 54.3%; Avg strength of emotion: 3.2
  • Interest: 43.6% Avg: 3.2
  • Sad: 16.5% Avg: 2.7
  • Satisfied: 7% Avg: 3
  • Elated: 6% Avg: 3.5
  • Guilt: 6% Avg: 3
  • Surprise: 5% Avg: 3.4
  • Bored: 4% Avg. 2.75
  • Write-in emotion: Awe/amazement: 4% Avg:?
  • Other emotions mentioned at 3% or lower: funny, fear, hope, disgust

Overall Enjoyment

2009: Visitors’ length of stay was influenced by gorillas’ interactions with each other and whether they were consuming food, but not by the gorillas’ interactions with their environment.

2010: Overall Enjoyment: Avg: 5.76, Median: 6

Happily, busy-ness did not seem to influence visitor’s response to seeing the gorillas. During the busiest times (ranked a 3), visitors actually scored the exhibit as overall more enjoyable than the study’s average overall enjoyment score.

Busy 3: Enjoyment Overall: Avg: 5.83

Learning/Signs

Both 2009 and 2010 studied looked at learning and information accessibility inside the exhibit

2009

  • The most commonly read signs were the troop biographies.
  • 54% of all visitor groups demonstrated behavior correlated with learning.
  • 64% of visitor groups interacted with interpretive signage of any kind. The most commonly read signs were the Troop One biographies (located in zone 4) and the sign explaining that gorillas don’t eat meat (in zone 3). However, the signs visitors interacted with the longest were the two signs with the troop biographies. Most signs were glanced at or read for less than 10 seconds.

Signs and type of interactions with each sign

Sign Glance/ Read for less than 10s Read for up to 30s Read for up to 60s Read for more than 60s Read out loud/discussed with group
Troop Two Bios (zone 2)

4

2

3

7

3

Video (zone 2)

6

4

0

2

1

Endangered (zone 2)

1

4

3

1

0

Quiet, sensitive animals (zone 2)

2

0

0

0

4

Donor sign (zone 2)

4

0

0

0

0

Eat Meat? (zone 3)

12

5

3

1

2

Troop One Bios (zone 4)

8

2

7

7

2

Gorilla News (zone 4)

8

1

3

1

1

Meet the gorillas (zone 4)

5

3

3

0

2

Endangered 2 (zone 4)

5

1

2

1

0

Donation box (zone 4)

4

0

0

0

0

Wall sculpture (zone 4)

2

0

0

0

0

Number of interactions with each sign

Sign % # of interactions
Troop One Bios (zone 4)

18.3

26

Eat Meat? (zone 3)

16.2

23

Troop Two Bios (zone 2)

13.3

19

Gorilla News (zone 4)

9.8

14

Meet the gorillas (zone 4)

9.2

13

Video (zone 2)

9.2

13

Endagered 2 (zone 4)

6.3

9

Endangered (zone 2)

6.3

9

Quiet, animals sensitive to noise (zone 2)

4.2

6

Donor sign (zone 2)

2.8

4

Donation box (zone 4)

2.8

4

Wall sculpture (zone 4)

1.4

2

Total interactions

99.8

142

One of the major goals of the zoo is to educate visitors. There has been much research (e.g. Kassing et al 2008) which shows that certain behaviors can be identified that correlate with learning in informal learning environments like zoos and museums. Discussions among visitor groups were documented and analyzed for behavior which correlates with learning.

According to the Family Learning instrument used to code these discussions, over half of all visitor groups (54%) demonstrated behavior correlated with learning. Of those who exhibited learning behavior, the most common behavior recorded was a visitor making a comment about the gorillas’ behavior, body, or some other attribute about the gorillas (44%). The next two most frequent behaviors were directly asking (15%) and answering (13%) questions about the gorillas or the exhibit.

 

Indications of Learning

Family Learning Behaviors # of occurrences Percent
comments about animal

24

44.4

asks a knowledge question

8

14.8

answers a question

7

13.0

reads exhibit text silently

5

9.3

synthesizes material

4

7.4

asks question that focuses attention

3

5.6

repeats material

3

5.6

Total

 54

100.0

2010

In 2010, we asked visitors about a specific sign, the Partners for Wildlife sign featuring the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study. We asked visitors to read a copy of the sign, and then asked them to summarize what they believe the main message of the sign was. Comprehension was ranked on complexity of the respondent’s answer, and was scored by three different people to confirm overall agreement with scores. The below chart shows those scores averaged.

Mbeli Bai sign: did people “get it”?

Visitor Understanding of “Mbeli Bai” Sign

Level of comprehension

Description

Examples

Results

0 Describes photo only “It’s a family of gorillas.”

.5%

1 Only able to give vague description of overall aim of project – or describes zoo as “helping” but unclear who or what “Education and protection.”“Help the gorillas.”

“Save the gorillas.”

“The zoo did something good, zoo bragging rights.”

54%

2 States that zoo is helping gorillas / Helping gorillas in Africa  (No elaboration of how zoo is helping) “Zoo tries to help gorillas in West. Africa.”“Importance of links between the zoo and conservation efforts in Africa.”

“How the zoo is helping the gorillas.”

38%

3 States that zoo is helping gorillas, able to elaborate on how “Zoo works with other organizations to help gorillas.”“The zoo is trying to help the economy over there, teaching local [African] kids about wildlife conservation and how they can help.”

“Help in West Africa, studied their continued existence, protect them; info about gorillas in the wild.”

9%

Overall Themes

  • People make easy emotional bond, connection to gorillas
    • Compared to snakes, non-mammals
    • Want to learn more about family, age, life history, biographies
    • Want to connect on personal level
      • Many already have built-in empathy
      • Learning happens!
        • Adults, parents are active participants in the learning process
        • People don’t read the signs
          • Even when holding the sign in front of them
          • Weak spot, needs to be explored more
          • Did respond to speakers, info carts, etc.
            • Useful for people to be able to ask questions, engaged in an object, “pull them in”
            • Another possibility might be to use more interactive items on signs

References:

Woodland Park Zoo Zoo.org

Borun, M., J. Dritsas, J. I. Johnson, N. Peter, K. Wagner, K. Fadigan, A. Jangaard, E. Stroup, and A. Wenger. Family Learning in Museums: The PISEC Perspective. (Philadelphia: The Franklin Instittute, 1998).

Kassing S., Kelly L-A.D., & Bradshaw, L. Emotional connections between people and animals: Affective information in practice. Presentation at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Annual Conference. Milwaukee, WI. (Sept. 2008)

Scherer, Klaus. What Are Emotions and How Can They Be Measured?  Social Science Information, Vol 44(4), pp. 695–729; 058216. SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) (2005), DOI: 10.1177/0539018405058216

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