In the past, species of plants or animals used to die out or become extinct naturally because more recently evolved species were more successful at competing for food and living space. Some became extinct because of changes in the planet or because of natural disasters. Today, however, most plants and animals become endangered because of the interference of humans.
The introduction of exotic, non-native species has negatively impacted many animals. These non-native species disrupt natural systems, compete for food, space, and other resources, and may introduce disease. Over-hunting and over-harvesting has had serious effects, but habitat modification or destruction has been the most devastating to the earth's animals.
Sample some of the following activities to learn more about endangered animals.
The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about endangered animals.
Asian elephants are endangered in the wild, where perhaps only 30,000 still live in forests of south and southeast Asia. They are endangered in North American zoos, too.
Pandas are one of the most highly endangered animals in the world. You can visit our national panda, Hsing Hsing, who was a gift to the United States from China. The still photos from this live web cam at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
The Great Cats exhibit features African lions—living, breathing, roaring great cats. They are ambassadors for their wild relatives, and for the Zoo's conservation and science initiatives for tigers, lions, and many other cats.
Remember Koko? She was the gorilla who learned how to use sign language. Find out about endangered gorillas, meet Koko's gorilla friends, Mike and Ndume, learn some gorilla sign language, see great gorilla photos, and find out how to write or email Koko.
Visit with John James Audubon. He founded the society to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.
Listen to whale songs. Then learn about whale echolocation which is how whales communicate with each other.
According to this site, "at any one time around 500 seals in Tasmanian water have 'collars' of plastic litter around their necks." Have students research the effects of human pollution, garbage, and waste on marine wildlife.
Learn more about the many species of animals that are endangered in Utah and what we are doing to protect them.
Check out this book by Sandra and William Markle. You'll find out all about the quagga, a zebra-like animal that used to live in Africa and the elephant bird whose eggs were so large that the shells of the eggs could hold 2 gallons of milk!
Learn about endangered monarch butterflies and their long migration to their wintering grounds in Mexico.
Some endangered animals have success stories. Use the information resources here and find out how this pertains to bald eagles, brown pelicans, or gray whales.
Get involved in an ongoing global project in which students from different countries share knowledge and activities about endangered species.
- Kratt, Chris, and Kratt, Martin. Creatures in Crisis. Scholastic: New York, 1997.