Senior Project Advisor

Nick Stanger

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2021


Zoos, empathy, education


Approximately 10,000 zoos exist in the world, attracting an estimated 600 million visitors annually. At the most basic level, these zoos are tourist destinations dedicated to assembling animals in confinement from around the world. The arguably most modern and conservation-minded zoos today form the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. In January of 2019, twenty AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums created the Advancing Conservation through Empathy Network (ACE). AZA facilities that are part of the ACE Network engage visitors through a process known as Empathy-Based Education (EBE). EBE encourages compassion and emotional connection to animals by having the visitor take the place of an animal and encouraging them to relate to what the animal experiences. This connection causes people to care about animals for moral reasons, and therefore motivates them to take ethical action to protect them. However, major systemic issues still exist in zoos today, and this Empathy-Based Education process alone is not enough to fix them. Firstly, zoos today still carry a legacy of imperialist power and domination that perpetuates false ideas of civilization and nature. Additionally, the animals that live in zoos are often treated unethically, are bred and sold as commodities, and are objectified for human entertainment. Finally, despite zoo efforts, visitors still do not leave zoos with enough information to effectively address modern environmental problems. However, some experts have proposed alternatives to zoos as we currently know them. These substitutions allow empathy, connection, care, and action to be fully realized in an ethical and effective setting.


Environmental Studies

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Zoos--Moral and ethical aspects; Empathy--Study and teaching; Zoo animals--Breeding

Subjects - Names (LCNAF)

Association of Zoos & Aquariums






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