The exhibit starts with this introduction:
As a conservation charity with limited funds, Chester Zoo has to support projects that will give the greatest impact. This often means making difficult decisions between spending our money in the UK or abroad.
Following that are descriptions of the following five projects:
- The upkeep of Chester Zoo’s Realm of the Red Ape exhibit, which supports the orang-utan breeding programme in Europe.
- Government lobbying to stop unlicensed logging.
- Develop eco-tourism to promote alternative livelihoods for communities living alongside the orang-utans.
- National park wardens to protect the forest and prevent poaching.
- Education programmes in Sumutra and Borneo to change behaviours and attitudes towards wildlife and conservation.
Visitors are then asked ‘which would you support?’ and are given the opportunity to vote. Crucially, though, you only get the right to vote by purchasing a £1 badge from the machine. This is quite a cunning way of preventing random repeat voting by impatient kids. I did wonder though whether you even needed to give people a badge for their £1. Even though the badges clearly cost far less than a quid to produce, giving people a badge turns the ‘donation’ experience into a purchasing experience, which perhaps sidelines the ‘decision’ element of the exhibit.
Interestingly, it’s never suggested at all that the votes will have any actual influence on where Chester Zoo will spend their money. You are only told that your donation will go towards general orang-utan conservation (which all the projects mentioned fall into). Given the results of the vote, this is perhaps a sensible decision. It’d be interesting to look at ways of giving visitors a real influence in these difficult funding decisions though.