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Endangered Species Classroom Activities



These activities apply generally to threatened, endangered, and extinct species. Many apply to all or most of the case studies. Some of the activities require further research on your own.

The bibliography provides some reference material to get you started on your research.

Note: Emphasized words can be found in the glossary.

Section 1

Section 2: Activities Directed at Particular Species in the Case Studies
Section 1
Solve Problems and Take Action
S1-1. Develop a code of ethics for a recreational activity that can injure or harass wildlife.

Investigate the problems that recreational activities cause for threatened and endangered species. For example, determine what problems boat traffic causes for endangered marine or freshwater species such as whales, manatees, giant otters, and corals.

Develop a Boating Code of Ethics that will help prevent or minimize harassment and injury to these species. Other activities to examine include birdwatching, wildlife photography, sport hunting, sport fishing, and SCUBA diving and snorkeling. Can you think of others?

Develop a Code of Ethics for any of the activities, send your proposed Code of Ethics to an organization involved with the activity, and ask for the group’s comments.

S1-2. Support the recovery process for an endangered species in the United States by using the media.

Contact the federal and state agencies in charge of recovery of endangered species. (For most species, the federal agency is the Fish and Wildlife Service and the state agency is the Department of Wildlife or the Department of Game. For marine species, the federal agency is the National Marine Fisheries Service. The federal agencies, and some state agencies, have web sites on the Internet.)

  1. Find out what threatened or endangered species live in your state and select one of these species.
  2. Ask for a copy of the recovery plan for the species. If there is no recovery plan, ask why. (Not all listed species have a plan, even though the Endangered Species Act requires one for every listed species.)
  3. Find out what programs the agency has initiated to help the species recover and what the status of these programs is.
  4. Make a list of ways citizens can support recovery efforts for this species.
  5. Try to get your list published in a local newspaper.

S1-3. Investigate the role of development banks in the decline of biodiversity, and develop a set of guidelines for funding projects that affect biodiversity.

Find out what development banks are and how they work. Do they require the projects they fund to be environmentally safe? Can you find some examples of projects funded by development banks that have contributed to species endangerment?

Investigate what development banks can do to help conserve wildlife while still funding projects to help the people of developing countries. Write a set of guidelines for funding development projects that will help conserve biodiversity.

Send your list to a development bank, such as the World Bank in New York, and ask the bank if it uses similar guidelines in evaluating projects for funding.

G1-4. Get involved in the Democratic process.

Find out if your state has its own Endangered Species Act. (The Federal ESA applies in all states, but many states have their own law, too.) Investigate current bills related to endangered species or the environment in your state. (This information is available on the Internet.)

Find out who your state senators and representatives are and how they have voted on similar bills in the past. Call their offices and find out their current opinions on these issues.

Investigate the likely impact of one of these bills on biological diversity and on your community. Research the issues, form your own opinion, and write your legislators to influence their vote on the bill.

G1-5. Encourage your state government to help prevent animals and plants from becoming endangered.

As you have learned in this study unit, it is more effective and less costly to conserve species before their populations get so low that they are endangered.

Contact the agency in your state that is in charge of conserving biodiversity. (The agency usually is called the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Wildlife, or the Department of Game.) Find out if your state has an Endangered Species Act of its own and how the law works.

Next, find out if the agency keeps track of “species of concern” or “sensitive species,” those that are not yet formally listed as threatened or endangered under state or federal law but whose populations appear to be declining.

Ask what measures the agency takes to prevent declining species from getting to the point where they are threatened or endangered. If there is no program to prevent endangerment, write to the agency and tell them why you think there should be such a program.

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Inquire, Analyze & Compare

G2-1. Design a database and find patterns of endangerment or extinction.

a) Design a database of the endangered and extinct species in this curriculum that includes the following categories of information: species; scientific name; classification (e.g., mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian); location (e.g., Brazilian rain forests); habitat (e.g., forest, ocean, grassland); population decline over time (see Activity G2-2); causes of endangerment (or causes of extinction, if extinct). Include at least 20 species.

b) What patterns or trends can you find?

G2-2. Graph the population decline of several species.

a) Choose several species and make a graph for each, showing population decline over time. Use either spreadsheet software or paper to create line graphs or bar graphs. Plot dates (years) on the X axis and population on the Y axis.

b) Compare your graphs. Can you draw some conclusions? Use these graphs as a visual in a written or oral presentation on species decline.

G2-3. Choose an endangered or extinct species and create a series of diagrams showing species relationships in that ecosystem and what happens when one species is removed.

a) Draw a diagram showing what the animal eats, what other animals compete for the same food, and what animals eat the animal, its young, or its eggs.

Other relationships you can portray in your diagram include where the animal nests (in a certain kind of tree, for example), what other animals compete with it for nest sites, and what pollinators (e.g., bees, bats) are needed to pollinate its food plants.

Can you think of other relationships that are important?

b) Remove one of the species in the diagram and analyze what is likely to happen to the entire web of relationships. Draw a new diagram representing the new relationships.

G2-4. Investigate the effects of war and political instability on wildlife.

Include the Persian Gulf war, the war in Bosnia, and other wars of your choosing. What are the main causes of injury or death to wildlife from war? What are the positive impacts of war on wildlife?

GS2-5. Visit a local habitat with a guide and find out what lives there.

Contact a national, state, or local park agency or a group like the Audubon Society and find out if they have naturalist programs for students.

Go to a local habitat (like a wetland, forest, or meadow) with a professional or volunteer naturalist. Find out what plants and animals form the ecosystem and how they interact with each other.

Ask questions like:

  • Have there been surveys of the area to inventory the species? (For example, for a wetland area, do they know what amphibians live there and how abundant they are?)
  • Are there any threatened or endangered species in the area?
  • What are the main threats to the area?
  • What is being done to conserve the ecosystem?

G2-6. Write a mini-biography of an inspiring individual (lving or dead ) who has made an important contribution to species conservation.

Explore questions such as what motivated the person to dedicate their life to conservation, what their training was, who was influential in their life, how they came to do the work they did, what difficulties they encountered, what they accomplished, how they did it, and what they are doing now (if they are still living).

Think of other things you would like to know about the person and try to find answers. Think about whether you would like to do something like they did, and what it would take.

Write a short biography of this person and present it orally and visually to your class in a way that will help the class understand how important one individual can be to species conservation. (See Activity G3-3 for another idea about how to tell this person’s story.)

G2-7. Explore conservation biology as a career.

Although conservation biology is a relatively new field, over 50 colleges and universities in the United States have a conservation biology graduate program.

Contact colleges and universities you are interested in attending and find out what courses they offer in conservation biology. Ask for information on their program and names of faculty members who teach in the field. Talk to these faculty members and find out what professional opportunities there are for conservation biologists and what skills you will need to pursue this field.

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Use Your Artistic Imagination

G3-1. Recreate the habitat of an endangered or extinct species in a medium of your choice.

Use one of the media listed below. Accentuate the elements of the ecosystem that human activities have affected and that are contributing to the species’ decline. Create:

  • drawing or painting
  • a diorama
  • writing that uses vivid imagery

G2-2. Write a children’s story.

Write a story for children about an endangered or extinct species. Go to the children’s section of the library and look at picture books to get ideas. Keep audience and purpose in mind as you write: at what age group is your story aimed?

What is the main point or feeling you want to convey about this animal?
Create a story board as you respond to the following questions:

  • From what point of view is the story written? (i.e., who is the narrator?)
  • How will you use setting?
  • How will you develop the theme, the plot, and the characters?
  • How will you use external and internal conflict?
  • How will you show rising action?
  • What is the story’s climax?
  • Can you build in symbolism and irony?
  • How will you illustrate the story?

G3-3. Write a script for a short play about the work of an inspiring individual who has made an important contribution to species conservation , and present your work to the class.

Find out about the work of an individual of your choosing whose work would make an interesting dramatic presentation.

Explore questions such as what motivated the person to dedicate their life to conservation, what their training was, who was influential in their life, how they came to do the work they did, what difficulties they encountered, what they accomplished, how they did it, and what they are doing now (if they are still living).

Write a script for two or three scenes that dramatize exciting or inspiring events in this person’s life, and present these scenes to the class in a dramatic reading or a short play. Use students from the class to read or play the parts.

Think about some of the questions in Activity G3-2 as you write your scenes. (See Activity G2-6 for another idea about how to tell this person’s story.)

G3-4. Write a poem about one or more endangered or extinct species.

Write a poem in which you ask questions and then answer them from the species’ point of view, as suggested in Writing Poetry by Shelley Tucker (Scott, Foresman & Co. 1992).

G3-5. Explore music that reflects an appreciation for nature or a particular animal . Then write your own composition .

In 1970, composer Alan Hovhaness wrote a symphony called “And God Created Great Whales.” He include four recorded songs of humpback whales. The whale songs are integrated with music that depicts their habitat.

Find a recording of this piece (for example, DE 3157, recorded by the Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz conducting). Can you hear the whale songs? What feelings do you have as you listen to the music and the whale songs? What do you hear that represents their habitat? What visual picture of the habitat does the music give you?

Search for other pieces of music that represent a species or the environment. One example is “The Lark Ascending,” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Write and perform your own musical composition conveying how you feel about an endangered or extinct species.

G3-6. Choreograph a dance.

Choose an endangered species and choreograph a dance that tells the story of what is happening to the animal and why. Or choose an extinct species, and choreograph a dance that shows how the species went extinct.

What style of dance is most appropriate? What music will you use to help define the mood and movement of your dance? How will you design costume, lighting, and staging to convey the story and the mood?

G3-7. Illustrate the history of the decline of a species through a collage or computer design.

Make a pictorial timeline showing the factors that affected the species’ population (for example, commercial hunting, the ivory trade, and habitat loss for elephants), either by hand or with your computer.

Draw or find images in magazines or on the Internet, scan pictures from books and magazines into a document, or use mixed media, such as objects, torn paper, or fabric pieces.

Place the objects or pictures on your timeline to portray the factors leading to the species’ decline. Portray changes in the species’ population over time by using pictorial images or mixed media.

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Activities Directed at Particular Species in the Case Studies
Solve Problems and Take Action

CS1-1. Write a management plan for a reserve.

Write a management plan for a reserve. Choose a species covered in the case studies that has had a reserve designated for it, or one that you think would benefit from designation of a reserve.

a) Determine how the reserve should be managed in order to help the species recover. (You may need to do additional research on the species’ habitat needs.) Write an outline for a management plan for the reserve that responds to the needs of the species and of the local people. Include in your plan answers to questions such as:

· What activities will be allowed within the reserve?
· What activities will be prohibited?
· What activities will be allowed but regulated, and what will the regulations be? (For example, tourists can enter with a local guide but not on their own.)
· Will there be a buffer area around the reserve that will be regulated differently?

Consider activities such as plant-gathering, hunting, logging, fishing, firewood-gathering, livestock grazing, tourism, and scientific research. Can you think of others? Draw a diagram of your reserve and show where activities will be permitted, prohibited, or regulated.

b) After you have developed your management plan, prepare arguments that might be used to convince legislators and local residents to support the reserve and your management plan.

CS1-2. Investigate the ban on ivory trade and present a debate about whether the ban should be replaced by regulated ivory trade.

Two teams of students investigate the question of whether the ban on ivory trade should be replaced by regulated trade. One team develops the arguments for retaining the ban, and one team develops the arguments for replacing the ban with regulated trade.

The teams then present to the class a debate on the following resolution: RESOLVED that the ban on trade in elephant ivory should be lifted and replaced with regulated trade.

Some of the questions students should explore are:

  • How successful has the ban been in reducing poaching?
  • What are its economic effects in African and ivory-carving nations?
  • Which countries have stable or growing elephant populations, and how do these countries propose to control poaching if trade is resumed?
  • If the ban is lifted, how should trade be regulated?
  • Does permitting regulated trade promote demand for ivory?
  • If the ban is lifted, what can be done to assure that ivory from elephants that have been poached is not passed off as ivory from legally killed elephants?
  • What is the cost of enforcing regulation of trade in ivory?

As an alternative to the debate format, several students can investigate the ban, report their findings to the class, and lead a general class discussion on whether the ban should be replaced by regulated trade.

CS1-3. Take action to conserve tropical rain forests.

a) Many of the products we use originated in tropical rain forests. Find out what they are, and make a list of things you have eaten or products you have used in the last week that have come from tropical rain forests.

Write a letter to a manufacturer or distributor of these products and ask what is their commitment to conservation of tropical rain forests. Ask them to describe specific programs or procedures they use to help conserve rain forests.

b) Many other products we use come from land that was once tropical rain forest but has been cleared for other uses.

A classic example is hamburger, much of which comes from cattle that graze on lands in South America that once were tropical rain forest.

Another is palm oil, which comes from oil palm plantations that replaced tropical rain forest. (See the Case Study on Orangutans.)

Find out what products you eat or use that come from areas that once were tropical rain forest. Write a letter to a manufacturer or distributor of these products and ask what they are doing to conserve rain forests. Ask them to describe specific programs or procedures they use to help conserve rain forests.

CS1-4. Investigate illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts.

Find out what the current annual value of trade in illegal wildlife and parts is worldwide. Include the pet trade, medicines, jewelry, souvenirs, clothing, exhibits, and other categories. Find out how international laws regulating wildlife trade are enforced and how successful enforcement is.

Can you think of things to do that would help to decrease illegal wildlife trade? Lead a brainstorm session in your class to develop a list of things you, government agencies, or private organizations can do to reduce illegal wildlife trade. Convey your suggestions to the appropriate agency or group.

CS1-5. Investigate the issue of breeding tigers on farms for medicines .

Contact officials of zoos and conservation organizations and find out what they think of breeding tigers on farms to provide parts for Asian medicines. Decide what your position on this issue is, and then write a letter to the Chinese government telling them what you think.

CS1-6. Take action to improve coffee-growing practices to help migratory birds.

Contact coffee companies in the United States and ask them to carry shade-grown coffee if they do not already do this. In your letter, you should explain why they should carry shade-grown coffee instead of full-sun coffee. Ask for a response to your letter that makes a commitment to carrying shade-grown coffee.

CS1-7. Develop an education project to help conserve migratory birds.

Find out what migratory songbirds spend time in your state or country. Do they nest there, or do they overwinter there? Contact the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and find out what you can do to help conserve migratory songbirds. Then start a project to educate your friends about what they can do.

CS1-8. Monitor and support a recovery plan for a threatened or endangered species in the United States.

Contact the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that administers the Endangered Species Act, and ask them what is being done to help recovery of the golden-cheeked warbler, the manatee, the black-footed ferret, the gray whale, or another listed species.

Ask the agency for a copy of the applicable recovery plan, and find out whether it is being implemented. If not, find out why not.

CS1-9. Develop an action plan to reduce market demand for endangered wildlife.

Find out what organized efforts have been made to reduce market demand for endangered wildlife and wildlife parts and how successful these efforts have been.

Compare efforts for two or more species. Determine what steps are more likely to be successful, and create an action plan for the animal of your choice.

You need to find out: what countries are the biggest consumers of the illegal wildlife product? what is the product used for? what alternatives to the wildlife product are there? what cultural values are involved use of this product?

CS1-10. Write an ad campaign to discourage people from buying endangered wild animals as pets.

Can you identify the population segment (or segments) that creates most of the demand for wild animals as pets? Is it different for different animals? Keep your target audience in mind as you design your campaign. How will you reach these people? How much would your campaign cost?

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Inquire, Analyze and Compare

CS2-1. Investigate threatened and endangered island species.

Read case studies on island species and the Spotlight on Island Biogeography. What patterns do you see with regard to endangerment of island species?

Select five islands in the world that are not mentioned in the case studies that are home to endemic species that are still living. Find out the status of these species; if they are declining, what factors are responsible; and what steps are being taken to conserve them.

Do you see patterns with respect to these species that are similar to the island species in the case studies? How are they similar or different?

CS2-2. Graph the rate of loss of rain forests.

Read the Spotlight on Tropical Rain Forests. Calculate how long it will take, at the current rate of destruction, for all tropical rain forests in the world to disappear.

Create a graph that illustrates the projected loss of rain forest area, starting from this year and continuing until all rain forests are gone. Plot years on the X axis and percent of rain forest remaining on the Y axis.

Scientists have calculated that as a general rule, when 90 percent of an area is gone, about 50 percent of the species it supported when it was intact will disappear. (This is an approximate ratio, and many factors affect how accurately it predicts species loss.)

Applying this ratio, according to your graph how long will it take for 50 percent of tropical rain forest species to disappear?

CS2-3. Investigate research and recovery efforts for tigers.

Contact the International Tiger Information Center at the Minnesota Zoo.

Compare the Species Survival Plans for different subspecies of tigers and find out about current research on the various subspecies. Have any captive-bred tigers been introduced to the wild?

CS2-4. Investigate alternatives to using mercury to separate gold ore from mud.

Find out if there are ways to separate gold ore from mud without using mercury, or if there are ways to dispose of the mercury that would keep it out of the water system. Compare the costs of alternative methods.

Do you think mining companies can be persuaded to use alternative methods that are safer for the ecosystem? What do you think it would take to convince them to change what they’re doing?

CS2-5. Investigate the role of genetic research in species conservation.

Find out how scientists determine whether a species is really two or more subspecies. Investigate other ways scientists use genetics in species conservation. How important are genetics in Species Survival Plans?

CS2-6. Find out what’s happening to gorilla conservation in Rwanda.

Investigate the current political situation in Rwanda. Then find out how mountain gorilla conservation efforts are progressing and what the gorillas’ status is.

You might want to contact the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, which has sponsored much of the gorilla conservation work. The address is 185th Street and Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460. You also might want to contact the government of Rwanda.

CS2-7. Investigate “animal damage control” programs in the United States.

Humans sometimes deliberately try to exterminate a species. Often these species are predators, and people kill them because they are afraid they will kill people, pets, or livestock. Other animals are killed because they destroy crops, are thought to carry disease, or are seen as competition for food that people eat.

  1. Contact the Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that is in charge of animal damage control programs. Find out what species are targeted, how much money these programs cost, and how successful they are in eliminating target animals. Then select two of the targeted species and do some scientific research to find out what are the ecosystem consequences of eliminating the species. (You might combine this activity with Activity G2-3.)
  2. The gray wolf (Canis lupus) was virtually extirpated from the lower 48 states as a result of predator control programs. Today, the United States government is trying to reintroduce the gray wolf to the Yellowstone ecosystem and other parts of the West. Find out why and investigate how the reintroduction is being done, how local citizens are reacting, and how successful the reintroduction program is.

Find out if reintroduction efforts are being made for other predators that were intentionally extirpated.

CS2-8. Design a database and find patterns of extinction.

a) Design a database of the extinct species in this curriculum that includes the following categories of information: species; scientific name; classification (e.g., mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian); location (e.g., Brazilian rain forests); habitat (e.g., forest, ocean, grassland); population decline over time causes of endangerment (or causes of extinction, if extinct).

Concentrate on the causes of population decline over time. Determine what steps could have been taken at various points in time that might have prevented extinction. Can you find a pattern as to what is the most effective time for intervention to conserve a species?

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Use Your Artistic Imagination

CS3-1. Paint a picture in the style of cave paintings.

Some of the earliest works of art depicted animals or other elements of nature. Find pictures of early cave paintings. Can you identify animals that are now extinct?

Paint your own picture of an endangered or extinct species in the style of a cave painting. Include other animals that probably would be found in the same area with this species. (For an extinct species, include only those animals that would have lived at the same time as the main species.)

CS3-2. Choose one of the extinct species and have a funeral for it with your classmates.

Deliver a eulogy for the species. Combine this activity with those in General Activities, Category 3.

For example, write a poem (G3-4) or a musical composition (G3-5), or choreograph a dance about the species and its extinction (G3-6).

Perform your creative work at the funeral.

Bagheera is Produced by Endangered Species Journalist Craig Kasnoff

to Promote the Plight of Endangered Species and the Efforts to Save Them.