The Endangered Species Project

Teach, January/February 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Endangered Species Project


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Why should we care about endangered species? What is the significance if categories of plants and animals disappear? After all, isn't it part of the natural evolutionary process? Survival of the fittest? For those of us who live primarily in cities, what does it matter if the existence of the peregrine falcon, the spotted owl, the African elephant, or the waterpennywort is threatened or endangered?

There is a natural balance inherent in the physical world. When external factors or elements that disrupt this balance are introduced, such as rampant development or toxins, then we experience a world that is off-kilter. The physical world is so tightly interconnected that even the slightest jarring can place an animal or plant species in danger. The delicate dance of nature is suddenly out of step.

When a species is endangered, its existence is threatened. For example, there have been an alarming number of species that have become extirpated in Canada, which means their existence and all evidence of their existence has been expunged from Canada but may exist elsewhere. The Atlantic Walrus and the Gray Whale are two examples of species that have been extirpated. We are custodians of the planet and the natural environment. As such, we need to ask ourselves how and why these things happen and if the causes are natural or man-made? Barring the occasion where a meteor slams into the Earth's surface (this purportedly led to the demise of the dinosaurs), it is relatively safe to assume that in a majority of cases, species that are threatened, endangered, extinct, or extirpated may blame humankind for their dilemma.

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Does this mean that we are simply evil and there is no hope for the natural world? This isn't the message that we intend to pass on to your students. Yes, we want students to critically assess the issues and make up their own minds, but we also want them to focus on solutions and how they can have a positive influence in terms of real change. We know that some governments are implementing programs that preserve natural habitats and wetlands. We know that threatened species are being re-introduced in some areas. That commercial activities endangering species are being curtailed and even legislated. That some dangerous practices have been banned and that educating the public delivers significant benefits. That there exists a global movement of individuals and organizations dedicated to protecting the environment and all species within it. There exists strong evidence that such developments make sound economic and environmental sense, and that governments are beginning to listen to those concerned about the environment, with a view to protecting the natural world.

Throughout this teaching unit, we hope that you and your students will explore all of these vital issues and focus on practical strategies for improvement. Much can be accomplished through exposure to the challenges that need to be overcome and publicly funded schools form a dynamic arena where students can learn about these terribly serious problems and act on what they have learned. It is vital for students to understand that once the existence of an animal or plant species is threatened, we humans may be next on the list.

The following curriculum areas are applicable: Geography, Environmental Science, Language Arts, Visual Arts, Social Studies, Media. This teaching unit is most appropriate for grades 5-12. Research tools: Encyclopedias (hardcopy and CD-ROM), Library Resources, Books, the Internet.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

a. Discover why species become endangered.

b. Explore the conditions in the environment that threaten wildlife and vegetation.

c. Understand the political context that affects how governments respond to environmental challenges.

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The Endangered Species Project
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