Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Paper

Degree Name





Dr. Michele Acker

First Committee Member

Dr. Michele Acker

Second Committee Member

Dr. Bennett Grooms

Third Committee Member

Dr. Ashley Simons


Animal Ambassador, Zoos, Zoos and Aquariums, Consequences, Live Animal Programs

Subject Categories

Higher Education | Social Psychology


Animal encounters are a common method by which zoological institutions educate and engage their audiences (D’Cruze et al., 2019). However, little research has explored the potential unintended consequences of animal programming, such as the perception that the animals being presented outside of an exbibit by staff or volunteers make good pets. The exotic pet trade has negative consequences for threatened species in the wild and can be detrimental for the animals in captivity if they do not receive proper care (Hess, 2011; Moorhouse et al., 2017). In an experiment at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, in Palm Desert, California, 227 children (ages 7 – 11) were assigned to different animal presentation styles as part of their participation in a three-day long summer camp. Children were either allowed to touch or not touch the tortoise being presented. We hypothesized that the ability to touch a tortoise would increase both the desire to conserve tortoises in the wild and the desire to own a tortoise as a pet. Our findings suggest that children’s ability to touch the tortoise did not impact their personal desire to own tortoises, though children who did touch the tortoise were more likely to think that other people should be able to own them. Our data also suggest that the children in both conditions increased their conservation intent implying that simply attending a nature-based camp improved their conservation attitudes. However, children who were able to touch the tortoise saw a greater increase in their conservation intent.

Licensing Permission

Creative Commons

Acknowledgement 1


Acknowledgement 2