PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Close encounters with penguins
The construction of environmental risk

Monae Verbeke  

An increasing number of zoos offer animal encounters each year. The role of these sessions may be the key to encouraging resource conservation and environmental protection, by providing an opportunity while encouraging a highly emotional connection between the animal and participant. Each encounter allows participants to join in a unique science engagement programme, yet the impact of these programmes has not been well documented. This session will describe case studies on how the interactions between the participant, keeper and penguins impact participant's conservation attitudes and perceptions of environmental risk. This presentation will describe, how science communication performances, in artificially created nature environments, encourage risk awareness, reaffirm the boundaries of humans and other animals, protecting a mentality of the threatened environment. Second, I review the interventions, and consequences of such interventions, that are associated with the animal encounter, which frames nature as a source of danger, whilst simultaneously mitigating risks of closeness. Third, I will discuss how environmental crisis theories obscure sociological explanation of the 'animal turn', which can legitimate the destruction of nature. I conclude by discussing broader theoretical issues of including nature in society and advocating for multi-dimensional approach towards the use of animal encounters as a conservation education tool, including a potential change in the discourse we use in these sessions.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.