Talking to Strangers at the Woodland Park Zoo

Kylie, Nicole and I teamed up as a group with Nicole’s stuffed cheetah/leopard and a small stuffed snow leopard. We headed to the back of the zoo with the strategy that we’d end up in the PNW regional area and be able to ask kids and their families for help in finding where our exotic animals belonged in the zoo.

Nicole’s stuffed cat got a lot of attention and comments – it’s size was eye-catching and Kylie used the animal as a prop to wave to children and facilitate connection, including making animal noises.

We completed part 1 of the exercise by asking a stranger if we were on the right path to the North Trail; he pointed us further down the path.

Parts 2 and 3 proved to be much more difficult, but got a little bit easier when we bumped into Museology student Karin Hoffman in the park, who gave us sheets of animal stickers which we were able to use as incentives or rewards with strangers. With the stickers, Nicole was able to get a child to give away her sticker to another child that she didn’t know, with the incentive that she would receive a sticker after giving the first one away.

We also attempted to set up a puppet theatre with the stuffed animals and a small rubber hand puppet in the shape of an alligator. We had more success getting strangers to approach the set-up and play with the animals when we left the area alone and watched from a distance. It was inevitably the children that led the way to engagement, vs. the families or parents. We did not have any problems with the objects walking away with zoo visitors.


  • time of day/tired children and families
  • children too young (pre-verbal) to respond to our strategy
  • children too mature to respond to our strategy
  • reluctant parents
  • visitors who had already encountered other student researchers