ZAA-accredited zoos and aquariums foster good health and wellbeing


This month, in anticipation of ZAA’s annual conference and its focus on sustainable development goals (SDG) we are exploring how our zoos and aquariums help foster good health and wellbeing for staff, visitors, volunteers and their community.


Goal three of the united nations sustainable development goals seeks to "ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages". Good health and wellbeing is central to happiness in all species, including humans. To achieve good health and wellbeing is to thrive in all physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of life. Our member zoos and aquariums have been promoting good health and wellbeing through staff and visitor wellbeing programs, immersive experiences, and by fostering visitors’ connection with nature.


The National Aquarium of New Zealand is creating immersive and rewarding experiences through an art installation that combines art and science. The installation by Gabby O’Connor named ‘The Unseen’ is a representation of the unseen hands of over 5,000 Kiwis and is on show at the aquarium until 8th June 2022. O’Connor involved students and communities in the creation of her artwork, connecting people with the beauty and the science of the natural world. The Unseen enables participants to explore complex scientific ideas, bringing them together with marine biologists, oceanographers and others.

This is very new for the National Aquarium, to have artwork on display, let alone one of this scale, says General Manager Rachel Haydon. “But Gabby’s message and methods are so engaging to help people understand some of these larger issues the ocean is facing. We can’t wait to see how it is received.”

Zoos South Australia has also adopted an immersive and creative approach to wellbeing, recently introducing a new wellness program focused on members, visitors, staff and volunteers. The program encourages them to “go wild in their search for wellness” by taking part in greendesking, mindfulness, creativity and sustainability walks and wild trails at their sites.

The concept is based on research that has found that regularly immersing ourselves in nature is linked to better health and wellness outcomes.

“Adelaide Zoo is blessed with an abundance of animals and a botanic setting that mellows a frazzled mind; it’s the perfect place for mindfulness and connection. While the wilds of Monarto Safari Park transport the visitor to far off plains, providing the perfect place to lose yourself and forget any woes”

Zoos SA’s wellness program will include downloadable sustainability, creativity, and mindfulness maps, greendesking opportunities for corporates and students, wild walks and bird watching. Messaging regarding wellness and how the Five Domains model can be applied to humans as well as animals have also been incorporated into keeper talks. Future wellness activities will include Relaxed Zoos for those with sensory and other neurodiversities, yoga, painting, and a human library.


The idea that immersive natural experiences can promote positive wellbeing was also a key theme at the National Aquarium of New Zealand’s ‘Sensory Quest’ which was launched over the 2021/2022 summer holiday period. The Sensory Quest campaign took visitors on a unique journey around the aquarium exhibits, creating opportunities to engage all their senses. Signage and floor decals were spaced throughout, directing visitors to take part in activities that would allow them to tune into, engage with and reflect on elements of nature that they might not normally notice.

The campaign was inspired by the University of Derby`s Nature Connectedness online course, which the NANZ staff had completed earlier in the year and used the nature connectedness research group five pathway model.  The model provided them with a framework to help develop their engagement campaign, which moved away from traditional cognitive outcomes linked to knowledge and identification and focused solely on building an individual’s connection to nature, overall wellbeing and pro-nature behaviours, through positive impactful experiences. The campaign was well received by the public, with many anecdotal observations of visitors, adults and children, being fully immersed in activities throughout their visit. 


Taronga Conservation Society has been focusing on improving the health and wellbeing of their staff and volunteers through their inclusive mental health first aid program which is active across both of their sites. Taronga had previously trained their managers, HR and WHS advisors, and staff had the employee assistance program for support. However, they realised that there was a gap, they didn’t have an avenue for their staff to address mental health in a peer support environment. In response to this issue, Taronga decided to offer training to all staff and has now trained 63 team members in the accredited Mental Health First Aid training including ongoing, temporary, casual staff, and volunteers. From this, 39 decided to actively participate in their mental health first aid program.

The program progressed further in 2019 as the team was trained on internal processes. After the training was complete, the team ran a few in house consultation sessions to establish ground rules for the group. For example, the team agreed that confidentiality is key, so they decided that the team are not required to report details to HR/WHS if providing mental health first aid to a team member unless consent is given or there is a concern for the immediate safety of the person or others. Taronga has made this team visible by developing a poster with each person’s photo and their name so teams could visibly see who was trained and who they may feel more comfortable to talk to. As well as, referring to the team in group meetings, creating a space where the MHFA team can share resources and updates as well as holding regular team meetings. Taronga also continues to offer in-house and external training and mentoring and support to supervisors and managers about how to help their teams with mental health.