Evaluating the conservation impact of an innovative zoo-based educational campaign: ‘Don't Palm Us Off’ for orang-utan conservation

Abstract

With significant biodiversity loss occurring presently, increased emphasis is being placed upon the capacity of zoos to contribute to species conservation. This paper evaluates an innovative conservation education campaign 'Don't Palm Us Off' implemented at Melbourne Zoo, Australia. This sought to address a lack of public awareness regarding palm oil (the product most threatening the survival of the orang-utan) and to create public support for mandatory labeling of palm oil on food products, allowing for informed consumer purchasing. Communication tools utilized included an educational video presentation played on-site, as well as You Tube video, celebrity ambassadors, and social media. Evaluation took place across four time-points: baseline, mid-point, conclusion (12 months), and follow-up. Zoo visitors (N = 403) were randomly selected whilst visiting the orang-utan exhibit, completing a questionnaire regarding knowledge about orangutans, attitudes toward orangutans, support for palm oil labeling, previous conservation behavior, and intentions for future behavior. Results revealed significant increases in palm oil awareness; attitudes toward orangutans; support for palm oil labeling; and indicating labeling would influence purchasing behavior, at all times relative to baseline (P < 0.01). There were also significant increases in self-reported conservation behavior at the end of the campaign and follow-up (P < 0.05). In excess of 160,000 people additionally signed an associated petition for mandatory palm oil labeling. Overall the findings support the efficacy of this multi-faceted initiative; highlighting the importance of continued innovation in zoo-based conservation education and practice (including the integration of emerging technologies with traditional on-site education) to maximize contributions to species conservation.

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