Big Cats Initiative

The eyes of the world have been on big cats lately as their numbers dwindle at ever-increasing rates. These extraordinary creatures, which play an incredibly important role in their respective ecosystems, cannot be replaced. If they are not at the top of the food chain, the delicate balance of trophic relationships will be thrown into chaos.

What is the best way to save big cats? Education. The interactions among big cats, their territories, and humans, are complicated. It is critical to help students understand these relationships so that they can know how to best protect lions, tigers, jaguars, and other threatened top felines.


“Young Lions” photo by Amy Dickman.

National Geographic Education, in partnership with the Big Cats Initiative, has created a library of resources to help educators teach about big cats. While “big cats” might not be on any state standards list, basic topics in biology, ecology, and environmental science–such as predator-prey relationships, adaptations, habitats, and animal conservation–can be covered through the lens of these charismatic megafauna. Below, we highlight a few of the resources in the Big Cats collection.

The video Lions of Gir, one of 18 short video clips in the collection,
explores the last remaining Asiatic Lion population. Ecologically, these
cats are priceless, but humans have moved into their hunting lands and
have brought their livestock with them. As the cats have had to forfeit more
and more of their territory, they have begun to hunt livestock, inciting
conflict with humans, who retaliate by killing the lions. The effects of
these individual losses are compounded by disruptions to the lions’
complex social structure, which results in many more lion deaths. The
Lions of Gir video describes the precarious situation of the Asiatic Lions from the perspectives of the different stakeholders:
Conservationist, Local Government, Maldhari herdsman, and the lions
themselves. It is an excellent way to engage your students in discussion, and in systematic-decision processes about human
interactions with the environment.


Living wall installation” Photo by Laly Lichtenfeld.

The case study the Greater Southern Bypass highlights the
relationship among African Lions, the traffic of Nairobi, Kenya, and
local pastoralists. The study features the work of Dr. Paula Kahumbu,
who suggests that there is a way to live in harmony with the cats.
One possible solution relates to the construction of the Southern Pass,
a new highway being designed to alleviate some of the trade traffic
through Nairobi. She suggests that the road be carefully mapped to avoid
natural animal corridors, and that it be built with high fences and
tunnels to facilitate animal movement. Dr. Kahumbu also advises that
bomas, or fences that pastoralists use to keep out predators, be
enforced with chain-link fence to prevent lions from penetrating them
and provoking farmers.

“The Greater Southern Bypass” is one of three case studies in the Big
Cats collection
. Case studies are important tools to use in the
classroom to challenge students to apply their knowledge to real-word
situations and develop critical analysis skills. Case studies are best
discussed in groups of 3 to 6 students. The discussion should result in a
decision about how to resolve the issue described in the case study.
Asking questions is an important part of this process–before, during,
and after reading the study. Groups should be able to work internally to
come up with questions and possible solutions to present to the class.
After all the groups have presented, the whole class can discuss the
implications of their decisions.  

For more Big Cats videos, activities, and case studies, explore the
complete Big Cats Collection on the National Geographic Education

Indiana University Teaching Handbook. Managing a Case Assignment.
February 2, 2012.

–By Hannah Herrero, National Geographic Education 

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