Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter (WZAM) is a long-term research initiative designed to understand how zoos and aquariums contribute to American society. This website provides updates on research and serves as a record of the WZAM initiative’s history.

This short video explains the results of the WZAM study on STEM learning.

Want to learn more about WZAM? See this post about the history of the WZAM initiative and this post about the current research on STEM learning.

National Science Foundation

The current WZAM research, called STEM Matters: Investigating the Confluence of Visitor and Institutional Agendas is supported by National Science Foundation (award #DRK-1612729 and #DRK-1612699).


WZAM2: The Human Dimensions of Wildlife Conservation

Starting in 2009, the Public Research and Evaluation Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society Institute led a nationwide research study on behalf to the zoo and aquarium community in their research and evaluation of the human dimensions of wildlife conservation. These dimensions encompass people’s understanding of conservation concepts, key motivators for engaging in conservation activities, and how to develop new social norms that promote a more conservation-minded society. The following resources represents the culmination of four years of research into how zoos and aquariums are valued in American society.

The WZAM2 research and resources were supported in part through funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Grant # LG-25-05-0102-0 and through funding for the Multi-Institutional Research Project from the National Science Foundation Grant # ESI-0205843.

WZAM1: What Are the Impacts of Zoos & Aquariums?

Going to accredited zoos and aquariums has a significant impact on what adult visitors understand about conservation. In the 20th century, there were few studies that explored this type of learning.

The Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter initiative launched in 2001 with the first nationwide study funded by the National Science Foundation. A strategic partnership between the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the former Institute for Learning Innovation, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium led the study with the goal of developing evidence on how zoos and aquariums make a difference.

This landmark first WZAM series of studies produced several significant results.

  • It has added to our knowledge about why people go to zoos and aquariums and what they do there.
  • It has helped us analyze how seeing wildlife affects the way people think about conservation and about their own role in protecting the environment.
  • It enabled us to develop this toolbox for member institutions to use in learning more about their visitors and assessing their impact on those visitors.

The research team produced the WZAM Toolbox with funding from the National Science Foundation (Grant # ESI-0205843) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (Grant # LG-25-05-0102-0).