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"A good rating system would stimulate healthy competition
and give every zoo a relevant target."
(Maple, 1995)







Hoping to find the criteria for a good rating system, I enrolled at the University of Georgia in 1998. The motivation to work on this topic came from an observation that I made very often since I got interested in zoo design:

When designing new zoo exhibits, zoo directors and their professionals often do not profit from experiences others have already gained with similar or even the same type of exhibit. This happens because the information on strengths and weaknesses of existing exhibits is either hard to find and to evaluate or not available at all. This results in unnecessary experiments, ‘reinventing the wheel’ again and again or copying what was done elsewhere. The consequences of these approaches often are:

  • Poor conditions for animals,
  • poor educational performance,
  • poor conservation results and
  • poor use of resources (animals, efforts and money).
I started my research by writing a proposal and sending it to zoo directors and zoo designers in Europe, Australia and the United States. My suggestions were to:
  • develop criteria for the assessment of zoo exhibits that are already built,
  • create suitable instruments to publish assessments of zoo exhibits,
  • publish updated and standardized information on zoo exhibits, such as assessments, costs, and information on skilled professionals,
  • improve public awareness on appropriate zoo design, and thus
  • create competition among zoos to accomplish assessment criteria.
The feedback I got from several experienced professionals first was not very encouraging:

There were doubts that any given set of criteria could deal with the rapidly changing trends and the relationship between exhibit design and operation. Also, criteria for assessments are always based on a specific philosophy. But, there is no one right philosophy of zoo design. Furthermore, there was the fear from designers that information on top quality exhibits would encourage copycats who may not have the skill or experience to use the information properly. Finally, some zoo directors were not very interested in having their exhibits assessed.

However, most respondents found assessments of zoo exhibits and their publication useful.

I therefore changed my concept and the focus of my research. Then, I decided to develop a standard for describing animal exhibits and to have others judge them based on these standardized descriptions. In order to test my concept I designed a pilot project. The medium best suited for my approach seemed to be the internet.  Communication by email is cheap and fast. A survey can be conducted on the internet within a relatively short time. A website is illustrative but cheap to create and disseminate relative to any other medium. Thus, I created a website as my pilot project.

The results of these efforts proved to be much more promising. The following chapters describe the background to and the development of the pilot project, give an evaluation of the project, and discuss future options. 

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Last modification: 2000/2/27
Copyright © 2000 Monika Ebenhöh