Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Early Childhood Education

First Advisor

Dr. Olga S. Jarrett - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Barbara Meyers

Third Advisor

Dr. Olin E. Myers

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Molly H. Weinburgh

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Rebecca J. Snyder

Sixth Advisor

Dr. Yali Zhao


ABSTRACT EFFECT OF A WILDLIFE CONSERVATION CAMP EXPERIENCE IN CHINA ON STUDENT KNOWLEDGE OF ANIMALS, CARE, PROPENSITY FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP, AND COMPASSIONATE BEHAVIOR TOWARD ANIMALS by Sarah M. Bexell The goal of conservation education is positive behavior change toward animals and the environment. This study was conducted to determine whether participation in a wildlife conservation education camp was effective in positively changing 8-12 year old students’: (a) knowledge of animals, (b) care about animals, (c) propensity for environmental and wildlife stewardship, and (d) compassionate behavior toward animals. During the summer of 2005, 2 five-day camps were conducted at 2 zoological institutions in Chengdu, China. The camp curriculum was influenced by theory and research on the following: conservation psychology, social learning theory, empathy and moral development theory, socio-biological theory, constructivist theory, and conservation science. Camp activities were sensitive to Chinese culture and included Chinese conservation issues. Activities were designed to help children form bonds with animals and care enough about them to positively change their behavior toward animals and the environment. This mixed methods study triangulated quantitative and qualitative data from six sources to answer the following: 1. Did camp increase student knowledge of animals? 2. Did camp increase student caring about animals? 3. Did camp increase student propensity for environmental and wildlife stewardship? 4. Did camp affect student compassionate behavior toward animals? A conservation stewards survey revealed significant increases on pre-post, self-report of knowledge, care, and propensity. Pre-post, rubric-scored responses to human-animal interaction vignettes indicated a significant increase in knowledge, and stable scores on care and propensity. Qualitative data from student journals, vignettes, and end-of-camp questionnaires demonstrated knowledge, caring, and propensity, and revealed the emergent theme empathy. To address question 4, instructors tallied campers’ behavior toward animals using a student behavior ethogram. Occurrence of positive behaviors was inconsistent, but negative behaviors decreased, indicating campers were more conscious of behaviors to avoid. Field notes helped determine that camps were implemented as planned, therefore not interfering with goals of the camp. This study contributes to an emerging and critical knowledge base of effective strategies to promote conservation behavior.