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The Application of Persuasive Communication Theory to Promote Visitor Conservation Behaviour at Wellington Zoo

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posted on 12.11.2021, 00:36 by MacDonald, Edith A.

Zoos can play a key role in conservation by facilitating behaviour change in their 600 million visitors annually. However, while numerous articles reinforce the potential zoos have in influencing conservation behaviour in visitors, only a few zoos have quantified the impact a visit has on visitor conservation behaviour. In this thesis, I applied a persuasive communication framework to develop a conservation communication campaign at Wellington Zoo, New Zealand. My results make a significant contribution to the body of literature that evaluates communicating conservation behaviour to zoo visitors and suggest future directions zoos can take to achieve their goal of facilitating conservation behaviour in their visitors. In Study 1, I determined visitor perceptions of conservation wildlife threats and the corresponding actions that could be taken to alleviate these threats. Visitor perceptions were biased towards global awareness of conservation threats with less awareness of local threats, a condition referred to as environmental hyperopia. Furthermore, there was an expert-lay discrepancy in the perception of local and global threats and mitigating actions. Based on these results, two conservation behaviours were selected to advocate to zoo visitors. To determine the content of the message, I applied the Theory of Planned Behaviour in Study 2 to identify the variables (attitudes, norms, and perceived behavioural control) linked to behavioural intention. The variance in visitor intentions for bringing cats in at night and for purchasing FSC wood products were explained by the TPB constructs, with visitor attitudes and norms both strongly linked to intention. Past behaviour also played a role in the habitual behaviour of bringing cats in at night, but not the non-habit forming behaviour of purchasing FSC wood products. In Study 3, I tested which method of communication (signs or animal talks) was the most effective for communicating conservation behaviours. I also tested if talks and signs based on the Elaboration Likelihood Model, implemented after a staff training programme, were more likely to increase visitor satisfaction, relevancy, and elaboration, all key cognitive components that ultimately influence behaviour change. Signs were an ineffective method to communicate conservation messages but animal talks were much more effective in communicating conservation messages to visitors. However, elaboration did not increase after the training programme. This could reflect that the training programme was ineffective and a more intense training programme may need to be implemented in the future. It is also possible that visitors enter the zoo with an already high level of elaboration and attending a keeper talk is not sufficient to increase visitor elaboration above the threshold. Results of this thesis have implications for how zoo programming to enhance zoos’ abilities to foster conservation action in their visitors. Additionally, my results also have broader implications to the field of conservation psychology and provide insight for environmental communication community.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Environmental Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Gavin, Michael; Milfont, Taciano