Size matters! What drives zoo attendance and how does footfall impact conservation? - Trinity College Dublin

Scientists from Trinity, Species360 and NUI Galway have quantified what drives attendance to zoos by assessing how variations in animal collections affect footfall.

(image: Trinity College Dublin)
(image: Trinity College Dublin)

Crucially, they link their findings to the contributions made to conservation efforts in situ (in the wild), and find that zoos are making significant, positive impacts on our attempts to conserve biodiversity as our planet enters its sixth mass extinction.

Among the headline findings are that zoos with lots of animals, lots of different species (particularly mammals), and with large animals such as elephants, tigers and pandas attract higher numbers of visitors. It is difficult for zoos to fulfil all of these requirements simultaneously however as large animals take up a lot of space and resources meaning relatively few can be accommodated.

The research found that instead of a “one size fits all” approach to a zoo collection there are several different strategies that can be used to encourage attendance, including the inclusion of unusual animals.

This research used a global data-set for 458 zoos in 58 countries, including species holdings data from the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) managed by Species360. More than 1,200 wildlife institutions curate and share animal data as members of Species360, contributing real-time demographic, medical, genetic, and population insights for more than 22,000 species and 10,000,000 individual animals, both living and historic.

Read the paper: Mooney, A., Conde, D.A., Healy, K. et al. A system wide approach to managing zoo collections for visitor attendance and in situ conservation. Nat Commun 11, 584 (2020).