A. Almeida1, G. Sánchez Emeterio2, B. García Fernández3

1Lisbon Higher School of Education / Interdisciplinary Center Of Educational Studies (PORTUGAL)
2Faculdad de Educación de Toledo, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha (SPAIN)
3Faculdad de Educación de Ciudad Real, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha (SPAIN)
Zoos are places often used by teachers, since they allow for animals´ observation and biodiversity contact. The Lisbon zoo opened in 1884 and is regularly visited by pupils of Basic Education, and only a few have never been there. In fact, many children only have the opportunity to see wildlife in zoos, where there is an attempt to combine scientific learning with entertainment, arguments that reveal an anthropocentric perspective.

However, zoos are controversial places (see, for instance, Norton, et al. 1995; Acampora, 2010), and are subject to strong criticism. Proponents of a biocentric perspective, centred on animals, highlight the following negative aspects: i) the use of animals as means to our ends; ii) the deprivation of freedom and conditioning of their behaviours; iii) the inculcation of the idea that Man is superior to other species. As for the advocates of an ecocentric perspective, centred on the value of ecosystems, they emphasize the fragmented view of nature that zoos transmit. Even so, in this perspective, there is recognition that zoos can play a role in the extinction of species.

This study sought to determine how 124 pupils from a state school in Lisbon perceive zoos. The children, average age 13, attended the 7th grade of schooling in 2014/15. To this end, a questionnaire with two parts was applied. In the first part, it was asked if the pupils have already visited a zoo through school; they also had to identify three positive and three negative aspects associated with this kind of place; In the second part, after collecting the first one, the pupils were asked to express their level of agreement (1, strongly disagree, to 5, strongly agree) concerning 18 phrases expressing different ideas about zoos: 6 of them had an anthropocentric content (supporting zoos); 6 others, an ecocentric content (supporting zoos under certain conditions); and the other 6, a biocentric content (opposing these spaces). An average for each perspective was obtained and the averages were compared with a Multivariate Test (3 factors) within subjects.
The results showed that only 4 (3,2%) pupils had never visited a zoo. In relation to the positive aspects, a large majority emphasized the contact with animals (75%), the offered spaces and entertainment (56.5%), as the cable car and the fast food restaurants, and the animal shows (35.5%). Only 8.9% of the children reported aspects focused on animals, like the fact that they are well treated, the appropriate spaces for them and the role of saving species at risk of extinction; in relation to the negative aspects, 42.7% of respondents focused on the general space conditions, especially the smell and dirtiness, in the presence of less beloved animals and in the weak interaction with animals, 22.6%, and 26% even said that zoos have nothing negative. Only 8.1% of the pupils mentioned the inadequacy of the spaces for animals and the absence of freedom. Accordingly, the 6 biocentric phrases were those that received less agreement and the others expressing the anthropocentric and ecocentric perspectives emerged with a closer and higher average, with differences statistically significant (p = 0.007). The participants also revealed a full consistency in the responses in both parts of the questionnaire.

The results suggest that children are slightly aware of the negative aspects of zoos, and indicate that the teachers that they had so far didn´t stimulate much a discussion on this subject, if at all.