AZA 2010 Houston Panel: Science and Storytelling

In the second panel of today’s afternoon AZA Conference, hosted by the Houston Zoo, attendees were treated to an inside look at the conflict between science and communication.

Storytelling and Scientists
One creative, interesting way to tell conservation stories

Zoo’s are constantly communicating messages about conservation that fall on deaf ears. In some cases the message may be killed by the messenger.  According to Christopher Kuhar of the Cleveland Zoo, scientists are:

  1. Critical
  2. Driven by details and data
  3. Conservative in their conclusion
  4. Driven to the theoretical

Typically, great storytelling skills are not on the list. Christopher indicates that sometimes “we can make fun things boring.”

Animals need both scientists and storytellers to help convert non-believers to conservationists. According to Jackie Ogden (Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and Kyle Burks (Denver Zoo), “Story can help create the bridge between entertainment, conservation and action.”

Rich Block of Santa Barbara Zoo surmised that many times the people that have the wrong data are the loudest. He places extra emphasis on the need for scientists to improve their presentation of data. More exciting presentations encourage people to become more excited about the message. Both Kyle and Rich recognize that the normal zoo patron has a much lower tolerance to data presentations than your average scientist. Photos, video, media and the story behind conservation efforts can make the difference between success or failure.

AZA Conference Panel on Storytelling and Science
The AZA Conference Panel on Science and Storytelling

Ana Bowie of Denver Zoo adds that people are also interested in the human quality of the science, meaning that they would like to experience the human behind the science.  Ana says, “The story is about the scientist too.  It is about human beings doing what they love –that is also very important.”

So there is an opportunity for people to be more involved in conservation and improving the quality of animal life. And that opportunity can be maximized through communication. In this case the communication starts with scientists.

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