Reinterpreting Jungle Trails to Engage Families

October 1st, 2011 - September 30th, 2013 | PROJECT

Research shows that the main motivation of people who come to zoos is to have quality time with their families. At the Cincinnati Zoo, we have placed a strategic focus on becoming more visitor-focused, with a commitment to better understanding their needs in a free-choice learning environment. This includes tailoring interpretive exhibits to engage families, our primary audience. Made possible with funding from a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we underwent a two-year process of research, development and design, and evaluation to re-interpret the award-winning Jungle Trails exhibit with a focus on active family engagement. In Jungle Trails, guests journey along a path that winds through nearly two acres of jungle-type landscape, featuring African and Asian primates, including Sumatran orangutans, gibbons, and bonobos. The exhibit appeals to visitors' emotions and motivations through an innate connection we all have with our closest animal relatives. As they learn how primates survive in the jungle, new interpretive signage and family interactives encourage guests to wonder what it would be like if their family lived in the forest. Interactives present group challenges that our non-human primate relatives face every day. Together with their troop, guests use sticks to push a stone through a maze, test their memories to find fruit in a matching game, bang out a troop rhythm on a buttress root, and compete to see who is best at tying shoes without using their thumbs. They also try out more physical skills such as swinging across bars like a gibbon and balancing like a lemur on a mini-ropes course. Colorful and playful signage introduces guests to the animals from the first-person perspective of the animal and includes questions to prompt discussion of how the animal's life compares to their own. Interactive iPad kiosks at the orangutan, gibbon and bonobo exhibits allow them to engage deeper. Guests may choose to watch videos on taking care of the animals, read about the individual animals' personalities, learn how they can help save the species or build a super primate of their own. By the time families reach the end of the trail, they have participated in activities together that have brought them closer to their primate relatives, human and non-human. Evaluation found that families engage with the interactives as intended. When asked how they would describe Jungle Trails to a friend, the word most commonly used by guests was "fun", followed by those that indicate it was "interactive" and "educational". Once overlooked and often missed by guests, Jungle Trails is now a destination exhibit as summed up by a regular Zoo guest who noted: "I got bored with Jungle Trails. Now looking forward to coming again!" Jungle Trails received an Excellence in Exhibition Special Distinction, Exemplary Model of Creating Experiences for Social Engagement, from the American Association of Museums in 2014.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Shasta Bray, Project Manager, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
David Jenike, Principal Investigator, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Joe E Heimlich, Evaluator, Lifelong Learning Group


Funding Source: IMLS
Funding Amount: 134540


Audience: Families | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Life science
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits | Exhibitions