Animals at Risk

Animals who have adapted or face survival in fires. Animals in zoos and animal farms. Animals used for research and abandoned. Animals who are hunted, legally and illegally. In one way or another humans impact and respond to animals at risk.

Some animals live beyond their life expectancies with all conditions in their habitats meeting their needs for food, water, mating and livable space. Climate change, predators and invasive species have not challenged their biomes and their existence. Other animals are threatened and endangered, nearing extinction. Whether an indicator animal, large or tiny — living in aquatic, desert, forest, grassland and tundra habitats — their survival raises questions of what humans have to do with animals at risk.


Some animals adapt when the weather is cold and do not migrate. Others act as grandmothers to their pods.


Some animals are used for research. Lifesaving medicines may result from testing on them, but who will care for them when funding ends?


Some animals are hunted in their natural habitats or bred in farms for their heads, skins and body parts to create magic potions and powders or to feed humans. Others are threatened by fires and by legal culling.


Post articles and activities in this month’s curriculum guide cross the disciplines to take you and your students to Laos, Australia and Liberia. You visit the National Zoo and track a wildlife trader. You sample Tom Toles’ visual commentary, a long-form investigative report, news unfolding stories of disease.



February 2020

Law & History
Resource Graphic 

Survive Cold Weather

As a pre-reading exercise, define these words found in the KidsPost article:

“adaptation,” “cope,” “haven,” “migrate,” “predator,” “strategy” and “torpor.”


Read KidsPost’s “How do birds survive cold winters?” Among the topics you might discuss are:

• Name three birds that do not migrate during winter.

• Name three adaptations used by birds to cope with the cold.

• Which of the strategies to survive do students think is most interesting? Be sure to include why they have selected this adaptation.

• What can students do to help birds that do not migrate?


American Bird Conservancy offers additional information about birds and their bird of the week program. Additional programs, education and conservation projects are available through the Audubon Naturalist Society.  


Prepare for Aging Elephants
Biology, Character Education, Ethics, Social Studies

When an elephant has lived beyond her life expectancy, it is wise for zoo veterinarians to plan for her final days and death. In “Preparing for a massive farewell” Post reporter Michael E. Ruane introduces readers to Ambika, “The Queen” at the National Zoo. Through her students will learn about end-of-life considerations.


Several questions at the end of the article may be used to guide discussion.


A different angle on discussion of animals held in captivity could be guided by the Post article “Zoo group votes to phase out bullhook use on elephants.”


Teachers will note that the online headline is different from the print headline. You might ask which one grabs their attention. Which communicates more information? Online the headline reads: “Some of America’s top zoos still use bullhooks on elephants. That’s about to change.”


Create Animal Sighting Cards
Art, Biology, Reading

Venture Into the Animal World cards are given to stimulate different projects. One set is partially filled in to illustrate the information that could be gathered. A photograph or an illustration would be at the top of the card. The left card gathers basic information about the animal; the right card gives more specific information about the animal on the day sighted or viewed in an article. A second set of cards is blank to be used as a template.


The Post published Deby Dixon’s perspective in “Gray wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone 25 years ago. It’s been a struggle but today they survive.” 

Dixon’s comments could be used with the sample cards to accompany her photograph on the left card. To learn more about wolves and wolfdogs, read KidsPost “Sanctuary for wolves is a howling success,” about a visit to Wolf Sanctuary of PA in Lititz, Penn.


The cards could be used for student observations in their backyards, on the school grounds or in local parks or campgrounds. Sketchpads and notebooks should be used to record observations. If students have cameras, these could be used to take photographs of the animals, birds, or fish as they move about.


Students could prepare the cards as quick reference of endangered and threatened species. To find the status of the birds, fish and other animals sighted, students could be introduced to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ECOS (Environmental Conservation Online System) Listed Animals.



Share a Fable of Blind Men and an Elephant
Art, English, Ethics, Journalism, Visual Literacy

Before giving students two editorials by Tom Toles, teachers might share “The Blind Men and the Elephant” poem by John Godfrey Saxe. Discuss the idea of the poem and the message of the fable. Teachers of older students may go further to introduce Anekantavada or “many-sidedness of reality” and Syādvāda or theory of conditioned predication. In the Hindu version of the story, there are four blind men; they do not argue as in the other tellings of the story, but conclude they have perceived the same elephant differently.  Buddism applies the story to disputes in society.



Read Tom Toles’ Editorial Cartoon
Art, English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Visual Literacy

This month’s curriculum guide focuses on animals and their survival, in particular. The Post’s editorial cartoonist Tom Toles alludes at times to animals and makes literary references. Give students “Tom Toles | Animals Aid Commentary.” Five questions are provided for each cartoon to guide reading and discussion.


After discussing the two editorial cartoons in small groups or as a class, teachers might ask students to select one editorial to comment on the situation — agree, disagree or qualified response to Tom Toles’ point of view.


If time allows or if the cartoons are used in art classes, students may be asked to select a current event. Decide on one’s point of view. And use a fable, fairy tale or visual icon to help communicate this idea in an editorial cartoon. The subject may be a school, community, national or international event.


Resource Graphic 

What’s the Relation of Wildlife to Humans and Disease?
Biology, Economy, Government, Journalism, Social Studies

On Feb. 7, 2020, The Post reported that Chinese health officials confirmed more than 31,000 cases of the coronavirus. Fatalities surpassed 630. Daily numbers increased and emerged in more countries. In its health coverage, Post reporters used facts (as available), charts, maps and Q&A approaches to communicate with readers.


Read "Coronavirus outbreak underscores potential health risks in China's wild animal trade."

• What animals are considered “wild”?

• “Once more” indicates there was a similar previous event. What was that event or crisis?

• Select three sources of information utilized by reporter Simon Denyer. Why are they reliable sources?

• On January 26, 2020, Denyer and Lyric Li reported in “China bans wild animal trade until coronavirus epidemic is eliminated” that “after evidence emerged that the disease was transmitted to humans through a market in the city of Wuhan that traded in game meat” all transport and sale of wild animals was banned.


On February 7, The Post update reported “Chinese researchers said they have found evidence linking the spread of coronavirus to the pangolin, a mammal illegally trafficked in huge numbers for the supposedly healing qualities of its scales and meat.”


Discuss with students what are the ramifications of trade of wild animals. Who is responsible if illness results: hunters, market stall owners or e-commerce platforms, local government, the country?


Graph It

Biology, Mathematics, Visual Literacy

Students could be asked to communicate through charts and graphs the number of people who have been reported to be infected with the coronavirus and those who have died. This could be done over a period of weeks.

• What is the best graphic to illustrate these numbers?

• What if you add information about the country in which these people were when infected? What if you add information on the nationality of those who died?

• How does the key have to change as the numbers increase? Or decrease?


Students could research the number of people worldwide and the number of U.S. citizens who have died of the coronavirus (2019-2020). Then research the number of people who have died from the flu this flu season.

• How do these numbers compare and contrast?

• How many people have been infected when numbers of both illnesses are combined?


Read the Map

Business, Economy, Geography, Social Studies

Map It activity “Tiger Ranges — Current and Historic” asks students to get acquainted with the current and historic tiger ranges.

Locate them on the map and identify the countries in which these ranges are located.


Investigate and Track
Business, Economy, Geography, Government, Journalism

Divided into ten sections, “Tracking the tiger butcher” takes readers into Laos. Post reporter Terrence McCoy travels with Karl Ammann who has dedicated his last years to tracking Nikhom Keovised, known as the tiger butcher, and to documenting the existence of tiger farms and trafficking.


Discuss the reporter’s background with students. Simon Denyer had researched and reported on the Chinese tiger-farming industry. He is cited in the Library of Congress file on China Wildlife Protection Law. How has the China beat prepared Denyer to cover the tiger trade in Laos?


The first three sections of the investigative piece are reprinted for teachers’ use with students. In addition Teachers Notes provides approaches that cross disciplines for Sections I-III and the entire piece. Use “The Investigative Reporter Takes You to Laos” to direct student reading of the writer’s craft and investigative journalism. How has Terrence McCoy found ways to make such a long piece compelling?


Imagine Yourself As …
Career Education

The articles reprinted and linked to in this month’s curriculum guide reveal possible careers involving animals. Teachers could create student groups, assigning each group a different article to read. What careers are directly mentioned and which are alluded to? 


Another approach would be to invite a guest speaker to talk about careers as well as volunteer and internship opportunities in your community or nearby. Veterinarians, college professors or someone involved in volunteer services might be considered.


The annual open house at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute in Port Royal, Virginia, will be held Saturday, October 3, 2020. Conservation Discovery Day is a special way to experience hands-on activities, research demonstrations and career panels composed of conservation biologists, field ecologists, research scientists, veterinarians and animal keepers.


Closer to home, the Zoo also hosts Woo at the Zoo, Earth Optimism on Easter Monday, and Wildlife Migration Day.

Read About Endangered Species

What’s the Future for the Sage Grouse?
Biology, Economics, Environment, Government

Teachers looking for a case to study the intersect of government regulations to protect endangered species and economic interests of companies, especially oil and gas industry, would find the sage grouse an interesting example.


“No country for the old sage grouse” by Kathy Love was published on December 16, 2018. (Online: “The sage grouse’s future was starting to look bright, but then along came Trump”) Before reading the article, review photographs: the sage grouse, its habitat, and seasons. Descriptions of the bird that was found in the thousands by explorers, its role as an indicator species, the conservation efforts of ranchers and the BLM changes in policy are introduced. What do students think is the best approach to the birds?


Since the article is not current, ask students to search for an update. List online sources (look in the article) and assign pairs of students to find the latest information. Students may find additional reliable sources during their initial search. Add these to your class list. Have students report their results. What different perspectives on the issue of sage grouse protections do they find?



Examine the Plight of Australia’s Kangaroo
Biology, Business, Climate Change, Economics, Government, Visual Literacy


Teachers will need to prepare students for the magnitude of loss resulting from the wildfires in Australia in 2020. Show students a map of Australia. Fires charred eucalyptus forests on Australia’s Kangaroo Island, from where Scott Wilson reported.


Before the fire, an estimated 50,000 koalas lived on the island. Today, there are fewer than half that.


Give students “On Australia’s Kangaroo Island, a fight to stay alive.” Photographs by Post staff photographer Ricky Carioti tell the story from locating a koala climbing a charred tree to rescue. More are found online with the story. Teachers might pull these photographs and ask students to group them to tell part of the story.


The first four questions of “Questions of Viability in Australia” may be used to guide the reading of the article.


An informative video with some sensitive content may accompany reading of the article. Teachers should review the video before showing. The black and white photograph of the dead koala (on the cover of Resource Guide Protectors Needed) at the end of the online article is haunting.  This image and other deceased animals are in the video.




To Cull or Not to Cull?
Biology, Business, Economics, Government, Social Studies

Post columnist Kathleen Parker begin “Of consumers and kangaroos” relating the Australian wildfires and its cost. She ends the third paragraph with a question. It begins a change in the perspective she brings to readers to stimulate further research and discussion.


Questions of Viability in Australia” may be used to guide the reading of the article and the commentary.


Animal Legal & Historical Center provides information on the culling practice in Australia, harvesting for commercial purposes and surrounding issues.



Abandon Research. Then What?
Art, Biology, Character Education, Ethics, Science, Visual Literacy


Lab chimps left to starve on island find a protector” is the story of chimps and their protector of 40 years, Joseph Thomas. American scientists used the chimps in search of a cure for hepatitis B in 1974. When the economy changed and research ended, what was to happen to dozens of chimpanzees that had not learned to fend for themselves in the wild?


Teachers may ask students this question before reading Danielle Paquette’s article. This would be an ideal time to remind students of the use of a byline, dateline and credit line. Paquette was an eyewitness on Monkey Island. She was reporter and photographer.



Act Like a Grandmother
Ecology, Marine Biology

Pod matriarchs critical to orca youths” is an example of a science article based on a recently released study. Michael Weiss, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, has lived in the Seattle-Vancouver area since 2012. He has studied J Pod, its matriarch and pod dynamics. Weiss stated, “I feel immensely privileged to be able to see such a dramatic life story play out.”


Read the article and discuss the “Grandmother effect.”  What is it? What behavior was observed in the pod? What does Weiss believe to be its impact on the survival of offspring?



In the News & Previous Guides

The audacious effort to reforest the planet

May be used with articles and activities in Cocoa’s Impact on Land and Children guide

 and Cocoa’s Impact on the Land resources.


• “The tax man cometh for esports

May be used with “High schools are starting to bet on sports — to engage and motivate


• “See how the coronavirus is upending daily life in China” and other articles on the virus

Relates to these previous NIE guides:

Endemic, Epidemic or Pandemic?

Mexico Faces Challenges (A/H1N1 virus)


An index of previous Washington Post NIE online curriculum guides, 2001-2019, is available.



Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange

Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Donna McCullough




Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Common name 

Nonscientific name of an animal or plant most widely used and accepted by the scientific community


 Conserve Carrying out actions to improve the health of a species so it no longer needs to be listed as threatened or endangered
Conservation From section 3(3) of the Federal Endangered Species Act: "The terms "conserve," "conserving," and "conservation" mean to use and the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided under this Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated with scientific resources management such as research, census, law enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live trapping, and transportation, and, in the extraordinary case where population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise relieved, may include regulated taking."
 Enangered In danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range
Exotic  Intriguingly unusual or different; from another part of the world 
Habitat Location where a particular taxon of plant or animal lives and its surroundings (both living and nonliving) and includes the presence of a group of particular environmental conditions surrounding an organism including air, water, soil, mineral elements, moisture, temperature, and topography
Historic range

Those geographic areas the species was known or believed to occupy in the past.

Inhumane Cruel or causing suffering to people or animals; lacking qualities of sympathy, pity, warmth
Range The geographic area a species is known or believed to occupy 
Scientific name A formal, Latinized name applied to a taxonomic group of animals or plants. A species' scientific name is a two-part combination consisting of the name of the genus, followed by a species name.
Species Basic category of biological classification intended to designate a single kind of animal or plant
Sustainable Capable of continuing to exist; able to be maintained
Terrestrial Living on land
Threatened Vulnerable to endangerment in the near future
Wildlife Native fauna of a region; not domesticated and not in captivity
Wildlife corridors

Tracts of land or habitat that provide linkages which allow wildlife to travel from one location to another to find food, shelter, a mate and/or a place to raise their young. They are especially important because they ensure genetic exchange between wildlife populations.


  SOURCE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Glossary 
District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.


Informational Text. Compare (and contrast) readings on the same topic by explaining how authors reach the same or different conclusions based on differences in evidence, reasoning, assumptions, purposes, beliefs and biases. (12.IT.E.5)


Informational Text. Evaluate persuasive sources for adherence to ethics. (12.IT.A.12)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Reading Standard for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence. CCR Anchor Standard #8


Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy and Dynamics. Organisms grow, reproduce, and perpetuate their species by obtaining necessary resources through interdependent relationships with other organisms and the physical environment. These same interactions can facilitate or restrain growth and enhance or limit the size of populations, maintaining the balance between available resources and those who consume them. Core Idea LS2


Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy and Dynamics. Interactions between organisms may be predatory, competitive, or mutually beneficial. Ecosystems have carrying capacities that limit the number of organisms (within populations) they can support. Individual survival and population sizes depend on such factors as predation, disease, availability of resources, and parameters of the physical environment. Core Idea LS2.A


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at and

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Life Science. The student will investigate and understand the relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity. Key concepts include

a)   food production and harvest;

b)   change in habitat size, quality, or structure;

c)   change in species competition;

d)   population disturbances and factors that threaten or enhance species survival; and

e)   environmental issues.  (LS.11)


Life Science. The student will investigate and understand that populations of organisms change over time. Key concepts include

a)   the relationships of mutation, adaptation, natural selection, and extinction;

b)   evidence of evolution of different species in the fossil record; and

c)   how environmental influences, as well as genetic variation, can lead to diversity of organisms. (LS.13)


World History and Geography Skills. The student will demonstrate skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision making, and responsible citizenship by

b) using geographic information to determine patterns and trends in world history;

c)  interpreting charts, graphs, and pictures to determine characteristics of people, places, or events in world history;

d) evaluating sources for accuracy, credibility, bias, and propaganda;

h) using a decision-making model to analyze and explain the incentives for and consequences of a specific choice made; (WHII.1)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

Language. L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Science & Technical Subjects. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.11-12.2))


Science & Technical Subjects. Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.11-12B)



Reading: Informational Text. RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.



Common Core standards may be found at