Tracking Movement, Tracing Survival

From animals, sweat bees and monarch butterflies to horseshoe crabs, manatees and white sharks to veterinary careers and zoos, articles and activities provide students with many examples of tracking movement and tracing survival. Students read and write a photo essay on a theme.

If you have pets, you know the importance of having a veterinarian in your community. As students will learn a career in veterinary medicine can be diverse. They will meet the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute’s new director, zookeepers, South African wildlife sanctuary veterinarians and a park ranger in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Then do some reading about a career in the zoo, veterinary clinic or animal reserve — and many other employment areas.


Animals reveal what humans don’t always see. Penguins, considered by some scientists to be today’s canary in the coal mine, give biologists a window into seeing changes in marine environments. Manatees are dying in increasing numbers as their food supplies dwindle. As ocean waters reach record warmth, the range of young great white sharks is expanding hundreds of miles north to beaches near San Francisco.


Man has also intruded on species and their habitats. The monarch butterflies find fewer milkweed and other foods on their migratory route. And once they arrive in Mexico, they find a favorite winter refuge is being decimated by men cutting down the trees in which they have roosted for centuries.


In the midst of the increased wildfires, drought, heat and flooding, scientists are tracking the movement of animals in the air, on land and under water. The devices are expensive, but the more inventive researchers are creating their own technology and sharing how to make them. As the biomedical industry continues to use the blood of the horseshoe crab, scientists have created a synthetic alternative — causing a significant debate in pharmaceutical companies and with biologists.


Students will also read examples of photo essays before creating their own. In their schools and communities they will use the camera and their words to track movement and trace survival.


January 2022

A to Z Organizations
Resource Graphic 

Be in the Know
Biology, Career Education, English, Social Studies

Within several of the activities and in In the Know section are terms that will help students to speak and write with more specificity. Depending on the size of your class, you might give pairs of students a term from In the Know to define, to find the etymology, use in sentences and give examples of them. For example, “safari park.” What does “safari” mean, its etymology and distinguish a “safari park” from a safari or game reserve. Are there any safari parks in your state? Where are the nearest ones located? Are any in the news?


Work at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Biology, Career Education, Photojournalism, Science

Teachers might begin by sharing “Day in the Life of a Great Cats Keeper,” a photo diary following a National Zoo’s Great Cat Team from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.


Insight into the workings of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute is gained reading  “Veteran National Zoo curator Smith lands top job. ” Brandie Smith is the second female in the zoo’s 132-year history to be the director of the large operation.


Another Smithsonian zookeeper is introduced in Petula Dvorak’s column, “Black zookeeper aims to shed unicorn status through outreach.” Craig Saffoe tells of his path to a career as curator of large carnivores and why he began the Association of Minority Zoo and Aquarium Professionals. One of Saffoe’s more recent cases is shared in “Surviving covid by skin of her teeth” on the zookeeper's role in keeping a lion alive at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.


Feed the Animals
Biology, Character Education, Health, Science

Teachers may begin this activity by asking students if they have pets. What do they feed them? Food homemade or bought at a pet store or grocery store? When and how much food is given? Do they have animals with special dietary or medical needs?


What do they think farmers feed their cows, pigs and chickens? After eating hay and corn, how animals such as cows, sheep and goats provide milk, wool and meat for humans and fertilizer for the fields. You might discuss arrangements made with produce departments and restaurants to get discarded vegetables and meals. Consider why finely chopped lettuce might be a treat for chickens.


How much food and what kind is needed daily in zoos to feed the variety and number of animals who live there? A Smithsonian article, “Feeding the Animals at the National Zoo,” adds nutritional needs to the cookbook of foods to feed different animals.


Jennifer Watts, director of nutrition at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, when interviewed in 2013 said that “Over the course of a year, the zoo buys 85,000 pounds of meat products and about $150,000 worth of whole prey items like mice, rats, crickets and mealworms.” And if that’s hard to picture, how about this: Watts orders fish once a year, mostly capelin and herring. “When I ordered the capelin this year, I ordered 120,000 pounds,” she says, “which was three semi trucks full of fish.”


Students might compile a list of food items bought for the pets of their classmates. They might interview pet food supply stores on the amount and kinds of food sold in a week or month. Students might check online for the kinds of pet foods available, including food for exotic animals.


You might read “Record manatee deaths cause Florida to try feeding program,” “How the monarch butterfly migrants became refugees — from us” and “Is medicine a threat to horseshoe crabs?” These articles include the food needs of animals and the food chain for survival. Solutions to Causes of Manatee Deaths takes a closer look at the KidsPost article. Read “The great white shark next door” which includes movement of aquatic mammals and fish influenced by water temperature, climate change and available food sources. The devastation that comes when the basic need for water is unmet during droughts is seen and found in the photo essay, “‘If they die, we all die’: Drought fells Kenyan herds.”


Consider a Career in Veterinary Medicine
Career Education, Science

To begin, teachers might ask students about their experience taking animals to a veterinarian’s clinic. You might read or have students read “A Day in the Life of a Vet,” a blog from Briarhill Veterinary Clinic. Another possible reading is “A Typical Day in the Life of a Veterinarian.”


The KidsPost article “African clinic goes wild with veterinary care” opens the door to the Onderstepoort Wildlife Sanctuary Clinic in South Africa.


After reading about people who care for animals, have students do the research-based, career education activity, A Career in the Zoo, Veterinary Clinic or Animal Reserve?


Face Illness and Demise
Biology, Career Education, Character Education

With older students, teachers may wish to include the difficult times faced when a beloved animal becomes ill or ages. Three suggested articles:

• “Surviving covid by skin of her teeth” on zookeepers’ role in keeping lion alive at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

• “ Photobombing gorilla Ndakasi dies in caretaker’s arms

What happens when an old elephant dies? Read “Preparing for a massive farewell.”


Debate Natural Habitat vs. Development
Biology, Business, Debate, Economics, Ecotourism, Environment

Indonesians are debating whether to develope tourist facilities or keep the natural habitat from infringement and possible destruction. Read and discuss “Development and conservation clash at Komodo National Park

In the News
Resource Graphic 

Follow the Sweat Bees
Biology, Geography

You have to be a night owl to observe the Panamanian sweat bee collect nectar and pollen. After discovering that this species works in the dark, scientists wanted to know how they found their way back to their nests. Read KidsPost’s “Sweat bees use natural GPS to return home at night.” Teachers might have students try to answer the scientists’ questions or to write questions they have about the sweat bees, especially before reading the headline. Are their questions answered in the article?


Be Amazed by the Fragile Monarch Butterfly
Biology, Ecology, Geography, Government, Law Enforcement, Visual Arts

Read “How the amazing monarch butterfly migrants became refugees — from us.” This article begins on a mountainside in Mexico where the winter refuge of monarch butterflies was discovered. The life cycle of the monarch butterfly, its needs for survival and amazing migration awaken awe in readers. How could some people cut the trees in which these beautiful creatures have roosted for centuries? Teachers are provided Fantastic and Fragile Monarch Butterflies close-reading/discussion questions.


Track the Known Species, Discover the Unknown
Biology, Business, Engineering, Microbiology, Technology

Engineers and marine scientists are building trackers to follow the movements of birds, beetles and small creatures as well as sharks and other aquatic animals. How can individuals who have a passion to locate and follow animals afford these expensive tracking devices?


Read “A high-tech, low-cost push to track species” and use Sharing High-tech Tracking for discussion questions.


Uncover the Horseshoe Crab
Health, Marine Biology, Oceanography

Caren Chesler’s article “Is medicine a threat to horseshoe crabs?” introduces the reader to the harmless and primitive sea creature who not only plays a key role in nature, but also occupies a crucial place in the human world as well. From Crabs to Labs provides ten close-reading/discussion questions.


Complete a Case Study
Biology, Debate, Government, Health, Marine Biology, Oceanography

After discovering that the bright blue blood of horseshoe crabs coagulates when exposed to endotoxins, the bio-medical industry has been bleeding them for many uses. Does modern medicine worldwide really need to rely solely on this ancient creature or can the pharmaceutical industry, utilizing the scientific method that led to its discovery, replace the horseshoe crab’s blood with recombinant Factor C assay, or rFC, a manmade synthetic?


So who is involved in the debate?  Covid, Crabs and Compromise provides the framework for a case study or debate of stakeholders. The list of resources in Learn More About Horseshoe Crabs can be helpful to each group of stakeholders to research their points of view and that of other stakeholders.


Note: This assignment may also be organized with students in groups of four to six working on the same stakeholder interests.  For example:

Team 1 – Federal and state government

Team 2 – NGOs

Team 3 – Academia and academic researchers

Team 4 – Pharmaceutical Industry

Team 5 – Fishermen, local businesses, residents


Each team could then present their stakeholder’s perspective to the rest of the class in a brief oral expert testimony. This allows for class discussion and questions. Following the presentations, groups could reshuffle into five teams to write the final paper with the concluding consensus of recommendations.


Another variant would be to hold a debate on the question rather than class discussion.


More Uses of Horseshoe Crabs
Biology, Business, Health

Learn More About Horseshoe Crabs suggests five searches and a list of resources to get better acquainted with this exceptional animal.

Read About Animals & Zoos

Meet Photo Contest Winners
Art, Biology, Geography, Photojournalism, Visual Arts

The urgency of awe: Nature and the climate crisis” a November 8, 2021, article by Ruby Mellen, informs readers of a photography contest based on the theme of “the effects of human-made climate change.” Before they read the article, students might be asked to discuss the details in the images that convey this idea. Some will be easier to discern than others. What context do the interviews with the photographers and Mellen’s text provide?


Compare and Contrast Approaches
Art, English, Geography, Journalism, Photojournalism, Visual Arts

As an alternative or additional look at photographs telling a story, compare and contrast the images from Ruby Mellen’s article with those in her October 26, 2021, “Floods, flames and heat: Images of the year’s extreme weather offer a stark backdrop for COP26 climate summit” Scientists say the impact of climate change is no longer an abstraction.” Mellen uses still and video to accompany information about climate in crisis. In what way does reporter’s purpose and platform influence layout? 


Another alternative to telling the story of man and biodiversity in peril can be found in the Q&A by David Suggs in “Fierce heat waves put habitats, biodiversity in jeopardy: Pacific Northwest spell spotlights the plight for plant, animal life alike.”


Photo Essay = Power of Words and Images
Art, English, Journalism, Photojournalism, Visual Arts

“‘If they die, we all die’: Drought fells Kenyan herds” is an example of a photo essay with Sammy Westfall as the reporter and Brian Inganga as the photographer. In what way is it an example of a narrative photo essay? Does the dominant photograph meet the NPPA Code of Ethics: “Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy” and “Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see”? Questions to accompany it are found in Think Like a Reporter | The Photo Essay.


Teachers might also discuss a November 2021 article by Sammy Westfall, “Antarctic penguin turns up in New Zealand after swimming nearly 2,000 miles off course.”

Create a Photo Essay
English, Journalism Photojournalism, Visual Arts

This Think Like a Reporter | The Photo Essay activity is based on ideas found in a previous Post curriculum guide, Visual Impact

In 2012 Michel duCille, then Washington Post head of photography, shared his outline for preparing a photo essay. In addition, Post photographer Jahi Chikwendiu wrote and illustrated “One Photographer’s Story” with tips on getting the photograph that tells the story. Teachers may wish to refer to these and the handout “Write a Photo Essay” which is illustrated with Joel Achenbach’s “Singular solstice,” an example of the writer’s photo essay.


Use the photographs in these book reviews, galleries and The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative to discuss the thematic connection of the images.

•  “'Unforgettable Behavior' exhibit shows animals as they're rarely seen” This KidsPost photo gallery illustrates how you can begin with photographs and informative captions connected by a theme — in this case, “unforgettable behavior.”

• “Snow blankets the Washington, D.C., region” These photographs went online while the snow continued to fall.

• “A photographer learns he can ‘travel’ close to home

• “Meet the Istanbul street dog who’s become a sensation” What does the human interaction with the Turkish street dog reveal about them? Could students tell the week in the life of a family pet or the neighborhoods menagerie?

• “The grueling struggle of being a California firefighter in the age of climate change

• “In Gaza, skateboarding offers mental refuge to youth” Look at the variety of angles to capture the sport.

• "These haunting photographs bring to life the stories of how humans and animals are affected by climate change"


In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete the online form.

Meet the Man in the Gray Suit
Biology, Geography, Journalism, Marine Biology, Visual Arts

Scott Wilson, senior national correspondent for The Washington Post, covers California and the West. In the long article, “The great white shark next door,” Wilson addresses changes in climate and habitat through observation, eyewitness accounts, interviews, data collection, government grants and legislation, the work of one team of scientists in one location (the coast off Santa Barbara, California) and the great white shark.


As teachers read through the article with students, they might ask students to look for the above kinds of information. How do students know that Wilson was reporting while on site?


To add another layer of understanding the white shark, Lisa Wu, oceanography educator, has written What You May Not Know About the Man in the Gray Suit for us. The suggested activities reveal the many ways the shark is used in products and research, the sharks’ connections to our lives and life on the planet. She includes a resource listing of many reliable sources for this bigger picture.


Teachers, note that two sections before the last section of “The great white shark next door” were deleted. They provided anecdotal scenes reflecting reactions to the closer presence of sharks. They may be found in the online article.  


Minimize Your Risk of a Shark Encounter
Health, Marine Biology

How can you minimize your risk of a shark encounter and not become part of the food chain?

• Stay out of water at dusk and dawn

• Swim in groups – they prefer solitary targets

• Don’t wander far from shore – isolates you from help

• Don’t swim if bleeding

• Don’t wear shiny jewelry

• Avoid excess splashing – don’t allow pets in the water

• Exercise caution between sandbars or dropoffs – favorite hangouts for sharks

• Don't enter the water in areas where fishing is taking place and or fishermen are chumming the water



Why were sharks not really on the radar of most research institutions or the public until the 20th century? Take into consideration culture, marine recreation, WWII.


Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Donna McCullough

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Aquarium Aquariums are dedicated to the display of aquatic creatures; having at least one transparent side to view fish, invertebrates, amphibians, aquatic reptiles and plants.
Conservation Protection, preservation and careful management of natural resources, species and genes so they can survive for future generations. For example, The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the international organization for zoos, is concerned with the health of animals in zoos. The focus of environmental efforts takes the form of research, captive breeding of rare animals and conservation.
Game reserve

Large swaths of land whose ecosystems and native species are protected 

Menagerie Collection of wild, foreign or exotic animals kept for exhibition. The first zoos were created as private collections by the wealthy to show their power. From the French meaning to keep house, ménager.
Petting zoo Facility featuring domesticated animals that are gentle enough for children to pet and feed. Sheep, goats, donkeys and rabbits are common petting zoo animals. 
Rehabilitation center   

Place where sick, injured and orphaned animals can be treated and cared for. Wildlife rehabilitation aims to release the recovered ones back into the wild.


Safari park

Larger than urban and open-range zoos, safari parks are often areas where tourists can drive their own cars to see non-native wildlife living in large, enclosed areas. These attractions allow the animals more space than the small enclosures of traditional zoos.


Permanent place for rescued or disowned animals to live, allowed to retire with care and respect; a refuge


A parched ecosystem; an arid ecosystem found in Eastern Washington and other western states. Provide habitat for animals such as the Greater sage-grouse, sagebrush sparrow and burrowing owl.

Veterinarian Trained individual who cares for the diseases, injuries and treatment of animals. They may have degrees in specialized areas such as large and small animal, equine or behavioral medicine.  
Zoological park   

A zoo is a place where animals live in captivity and are put on display for people to view. Any facility, property and lawfully licensed by applicable federal, state or local law, operated by a person, partnership, corporation or government agency, other than a pet shop, kennel or cattery, displaying or exhibiting one or more species of nondomesticated animals. The word “zoo” is short for “zoological park."


. Believed to predate dinosaurs, the horseshoe crab has unique qualities. 

a. Describe their physical appearance.

A tawny brown hard helmet shaped shell, a hinged abdomen, and a stiff, spike, tapered tail. Five pairs of legs underneath with and a pair of feeding pinchers, book gills, and a central mouth. Two bean shaped eyes on the highest part of the head. They can grow up to two feet long/one foot across.

b. What feature may have most influenced their survival for 450 million years?

Their unique copper-based blood detects bacterial endotoxins, protecting them from disease and invasive parasites

2. How do the following affect the horseshoe crab’s population?

a. Bleeding labs — take 500,000+ crabs for their blood each year. Although released back       into the environment, it is thought that 15-30% die.

b. Coastal development — destroys beach habitat needed for crab breeding.

c. Fishing industry — used as bait for the eel, conch and whelk fisheries as well as ground up for fertilizer and used to make animal feed.

3. In addition to their copper-based blue blood, what other special adaptations does the crab possess?

A hard exoskeleton, pair of compound eyes  — two on the head are sensitive to polarized light and can magnify sunlight 10 times. Another pair of simple eyes on the head can sense ultraviolet light from the moon. Multiple eye spots/photoreceptors are also found on the underside of the head and tail; crabs can survive out of water (if the gills stay wet)

4. Explain why LAL testing is so critical to the pharmaceutical industry.

LAL testing is needed to ensure vaccines, injectable medicines, needles, and biomedical devices are free from contamination in before being used in the human and veterinary medicine. It is a highly sensitive, fast, in-vitro test.

5. What is the ecological connection between horseshoe crabs, the Rufa red knot, whelks and conch?

The Rufa red knot depends upon the eggs during its migration. If there are fewer horseshoe crabs mating, there are fewer eggs, and the bird population declines. The whelks and conch are fished using horseshoe crabs as bait – thus the industry decreases the horseshoe crab population. All three decrease horseshoe crab numbers.

6. What are endotoxins and why must the biomedical industry be concerned about them?

Endotoxins are commonly found everywhere in the environment because they are carried on or released by bacteria. They are the most common causes of fever and inflammation caused by contaminated instrumentation or medicine.

7. How is the horseshoe crab’s immune system different from our own immune system?

The LAL in the crab’s blood immediately binds and clots around fungi, viruses, and bacterial endotoxins. Our immune system is more complex, requiring more time to respond to endotoxins and develop an inflammatory response.

8. What is recombinant Factor C assay, or rFC? Its use?

A synthetic chemical designed to test for bacterial endotoxins and replace the reliance on and use of LAL from horseshoe crabs.

9. Explain the role that the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) plays in the debate. 

It develops the quality standards for medicines and medical technology that companies must use when applying for new drug applications.

10. What is the point of view of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine concerning use of synthetic medicines and animal testing?

The organization, which promotes in vitro assays to replace animal testing where they’re not necessary, believes the data to use rFC is there. They believe it is good stewardship as well as foresight, to not be reliant on one animal from one country.



In the 20th century, people began to venture out to the beaches for recreational reasons. This had not been done in the past. There was not yet the appreciation for what lived beneath the surface and swimmers/bathers were inexperienced. Medical facilities were a distance from the shore so encounters tended to be fatal. During WWII many sailors were lost at sea to sharks when ships sank. The Navy realized that more than just physical oceanography needed to be investigated. This was the birth of many marine research institutions that continue today.