Students role play to learn what hazards wildlife face

CPAWS Southern Alberta provides environmental education programs and resources to educate, engage and empower Alberta youth in conservation. Grizzly Bears Forever, is a guide we make available for science teachers that looks at the impact humans have on wildlife populations, particularly linear disturbance. Linear disturbance is anything that fragments a large intact landscape into smaller pieces such as roads or trails. For some species, linear disturbances are devastating.

An example of a Grizzly Bears Forever student activity that highlights linear disturbance is Disperse or Decease. Students learn how important it is for young animals to disperse, find a home and spread the family genes into another area. By taking on the role of their favourite animal, students try to help their offspring disperse into new habitat areas - or deal with the horrible consequences!

Participants imagine they are wild animals living in a national park that is overflowing with their offspring. The only place juveniles can find good habitat and reproduce is in adjacent parks. Each of the parks is surrounded by settled farmlands, towns and cities, and the wild animal cannot live there. Students get one minute to help all of their offspring disperse into the nearby parks. To represent the long and dangerous voyage through settled land, students throw their juveniles (i.e. paper balls) into parks. Paper balls that don’t make it into the park areas represent juveniles that do not survive dispersing through human settlements. Without the food, water, and shelter afforded by the habitat found in parks, juveniles would eventually die. Travelling through inhospitable land is a hazardous activity; this is the reason the juveniles of most species have high death rates in their first year.

After the game, students consider what they must do when planning for new parks. This might include conserving large reserves over smaller ones, minimizing the distance between parks, ensuring wildlife have effective corridors to travel between refuges, and having slower speed limits and warning signs in areas used extensively by dispersing animals.

To download the activity instructions, check out our Environmental Education Resources.

Note: this activity is adapted from one developed by the Province of British Columbia, found in an activity guide entitled “Protected Areas: Preserving our Future.”