Advancing Conservation Through Empathy (ACE) for Wildlife

Empathy is a stimulated emotional state that relies on the ability to perceive, understand, and care about the experiences or perspectives of another person or animal.

Creating Change Symposium

How Empathy Can Advance Your Mission


To launch this project, Woodland Park Zoo is hosting a symposium January 22 - 24, 2019 in Seattle, WA to bring together experts in a range of topics (animal welfare, behavioral psychology, empathy, conservation) with representatives from zoos and aquariums from across the country.

The symposium will:

  • Provide introduction and training to the previous work done by the Empathy Initiative,
  • Facilitate discussion about animal welfare and the perception of welfare,
  • Provide continuous learning for interested organizations.

Contact empathy@zoo.org for more information.


Symposium Reception

The symposium begins with a reception on January 22 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. at Woodland Park Zoo followed by two days of offsite sessions.


January 23:
Foundation of Empathy

8:00 – 8:45 a.m.

Breakfast and Introduction by Alejandro Grajal, President and CEO, and Wei Ying Wong, Vice President of Learning and Innovation

Alejandro Grajal, PhD
Wei Ying Wong, PhD

8:45 – 9:20 a.m.

Symposium Introduction

Kathryn Owen

9:20 – 10:20 a.m.

Fostering Empathy for Wildlife: A Foundation

Mary Jackson
Kathayoon Khalil, PhD
Craig Standridge

10:20 – 10:30 a.m. BREAK

10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

The Warm-Minded Museum: Museums and Empathy

  •  “Designing for Empathy & Compassionate Worldviews Through Museums.”
    - Elif Gokcigdem, PhD
  • "Fostering Empathy through the Visual Arts"
    - Karleen Gardner
  • “The Impact of Museums: the Curiosity - Knowledge - Empathy Connection”
    - Susie Wilkening, PhD

Karleen Gardner
Elif Gokcigdem, PhD
Susie Wilkening, PhD

12:00 – 1:00 p.m. LUNCH

1:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Empathy and Animal Welfare Intersection

Bonnie Baird, PhD

Stephanie Allard, PhD
Jill Mellen, PhD
Jerry Leubke, PhD

2:30 – 2:45 p.m. BREAK

2:45 – 4:15 p.m.

From Caring About to Caring For: An exploration of best practices to help youth and adult audiences increase empathy and commit to action.

Jeffrey Skibins, PhD
Jennie Warmouth, PhD

4:15 – 4:30 p.m.


Matt Minarchek, PhD

4:30 – 6:30 p.m. BREAK

6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Group Discussion Dinners

January 24:
Application of Empathy

8:00 – 8:30 a.m. Breakfast

8:30 – 9:15 a.m.

Day 2 Introduction

Wei Ying Wong, PhD

9:15 – 10:00 a.m.

Empathy in Practice

Introduction to the development of empathy in different audiences, including practical examples

Rafael Bernier, PhD
Lisa Forzley

10:00 – 10:45 a.m.

Empathy in Practice

Highlight experiences from practicing organizations (process, guidance, lessons learned)

Kathryn Owen

Wendy Spaulding or Craig Standridge
Samantha Martinson
Jeff Dillon

10:45 – 11:00 a.m. Break

11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

Measuring Empathy in Zoos and Aquariums: Where to Start

Mary Jackson
Kathayoon Khalil, PhD
Kathryn Owen

12:15 – 1:15 p.m. Lunch

1:15 – 3:00 p.m.

Working Session

Attendees will select topics to discuss during this time

Kathryn Owen
Woodland Park Zoo staff

3:00 – 3:15 p.m. Break

3:15 – 4:30 p.m.



Post-symposium concept map + survey

Wei Ying Wong, PhD



Fostering Empathy

Empathy is a powerful emotion that drives our connection with those around us. It is a capacity that most humans are born with, is developed over time, and reinforced through our interactions with the world. Empathy is also an important driver for positive social change and motivates people to take caring action towards animals and nature. Here at Woodland Park Zoo, we believe that fostering empathy with animals is a powerful tool for empowering our guests and the community to make conservation a priority in their lives.

In 2015, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo embarked on a journey together to intentionally improve our capacity to foster empathy for animals and evaluate the outcomes of our efforts.

At the time, very few evaluative tools were available to assess whether programs in informal learning institutions are achieving the desired outcome. The three organizations collaborated on the Measuring Empathy: the Collaborative Assessment Project (MECAP) to design tools that can be used by staff to gain insight into the effectiveness of their programs.

We continue our research-based approach to understand empathy and how it applies in zoos and aquariums. We invite you to join us on this journey – learn about and participate in our programs!


Ambassador Animals at Woodland Park Zoo

Here at Woodland Park Zoo, we incorporate our new understanding of empathy into our programs with training for our educators, summer camp instructors, animal keepers and volunteers to provide them with effective ways to engage in guests’ empathetic skill development.

Our educators and animal care staff teamed up to create two new programs using the zoo's ambassador animals. These programs help highlight the individual animals’ stories while encouraging more understanding of how these animals’ needs and experiences are both similar and different from our own.

Find out more about our ambassador animals

Empathy & Animal Welfare


As part of the Empathy Project, Woodland Park Zoo will specifically be examining the intersections of animal welfare and perceptions of animal welfare, as well as how this relates to empathy. Zoos and aquariums have an ethical commitment to prioritizing animal welfare. While we provide experiences that can greatly enhance a guest’s emotional connection with animals, it is important to understand their thoughts on the care we provide and how their perceptions affect this connection. The Empathy Project will examine this topic and make recommendations to help organizations prioritize both animal welfare and a positive empathetic experience for guests during their visit.

Interested in learning more or getting involved?

Email empathy@zoo.org or attend our upcoming Empathy Symposium.