Education to Prevent Extinction

The biggest battle a conservationist or animal rights campaigner has to fight is against ignorance; sometimes well intended ignorance at that. I say that not with anger, or jest, or any hint of superiority; I say it because it’s the straightforward truth.

I say it because I’ve spent most of my life being both well intended and ignorant.

A more important point to focus on however, is how to improve education and access to information to empower people to learn what the bigger picture looks like (often related to money, politics and corruption) behind some of the commonly acceptable practices that involve animals.

I am fortunate enough to work in part of the Discovery Communications family; which, at the end of last year, released the incredibly thought-provoking documentary; Racing Extinction. Racing Extinction takes a candid look at the threat of the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction, and the global warming conditions that are likely to ignite it.

Racing Extinction

By looking at the historical scientific evidence that caused the previous mass extinctions (including the most infamous; the dinosaurs), film maker Louis Psihoyos (Director of The Cove) suggests that our planet’s current rise in temperature means we are sitting on a ticking time bomb. By examining issues such as the carbon emissions of farming and city traffic, the environmental impact of overfishing and the rise in the ocean’s acidity levels, Psihoyos sets about finding ways to reduce humans’ impact on the planet, and effectively slow down the clock that we started.

So what does this have to do with ignorance?

Well, a lot of these contributing factors that Psihoyos explores are surprisingly little known, or at least little taught. I certainly don’t remember learning anything in school about the illegal wildlife trade in China, or what happens to animals when they become the last one left of their species!

For this reason, I was incredibly pleased, and privileged, to work as part of a team tasked with making classroom activities and lesson plans to accompany hand-selected segments of the Racing Extinction documentary, deemed “curriculum-relevant”.

The fact that anything from that incredible documentary is relevant to the curriculum today feels like progression in some form! But the joy of considering how to reach schoolchildren concerning these issues, and what might support teachers to do so was both challenging and inspiring!

Education to prevent extinction

Ultimately, we chose to focus on ‘The sixth extinction’: analysing the characteristics of past mass extinctions and how humans today are contributing to species extinctions; ‘Sustainability of our food chain’; ‘The case for climate change’ and ‘Preventing extinction’. These lesson plans and materials are available for teachers here, with free access.

To further accompany these, I was invited to deliver a whole school assembly, for which I organised a game that examined the current population condition of polar bears and manta rays; and a Racing Extinction virtual field trip is available for all from the Discovery Education website.

Curriculum – relevant

I passionately believe that bringing these issues into schools and into the consciousness of children will create a more compassionate and less ignorant generation to pass the baton to! If only we could have known, or had access to some of the information that children today have the opportunity to receive from their teachers, perhaps the call for change would be met with far less adversity?

June’s guest blogger Kate Snowdon remembers being about 10 years old and winning 3rd prize in a raffle run by the Born Free Foundation. Kate was so excited when she opened the package, which contained a colourful book filled with photographs taken by Julie Ward, a wildlife photographer from Suffolk, England, who was murdered during a trip to Kenya. She knew then that her interest in Africa’s wildlife was firmly cemented and that one day she would visit the beautiful continent. Since this time Kate, who travelled to South Africa and spent three months volunteering at Shamwari Game Reserve, which is home to the Julie Ward Born Free Centre has been an avid campaigner for animal and human rights. To find out more please visit