Zoo and Aquarium Month Can Inspire Independent Research and Projects

Is protection and preservation the ultimate goal of keeping animals in captivity?

By Cathy Neushul


enter image description hereTalking about zoos and aquariums can bring up a mixture of feelings. There are those who love going to a zoo or an aquarium to see their favorite animals, but there are also others who loathe these types of institutions. Even when you are working with younger children, you can discuss the issues surrounding holding animals in captivity. There are both pros and cons, which your class can explore as they learn about the topic. This is a great way to introduce critical thinking activities into an exploration of Zoo and Aquarium Month.

Become an Expert

Find out what animals your class is interested in learning about; you can make a list and have your students pick one to become an expert on. Either you, or your students, can look for websites that have the relevant information.

If I were to choose an animal, I would pick giant pandas. I happen to know that there is a website named Giant Panda Zoo that has a wealth of information about these animals. It has a news section with stories from zoos around the world. According to this website, 13 zoos have giant pandas living in them. You can watch the animals live on panda cams. I visited the San Diego Zoo’s website and was able to get a live view of the panda enclosure. There were also links to information about pandas and a blog. The Smithsonian National Zoological Park also has a wealth of information about pandas, including a fact sheet.

The Presentation

Once students have compiled information, ask them to create some form of a presentation using a written report, a poster, or a video. They can share this information with classmates.

In addition, your class can enter into discussions about the challenges of preserving endangered species. For example, after learning about pandas, students can discuss some of the issues involved in breeding them in captivity and why this might be necessary. These animals are listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Species. There are about 1,600 pandas left in the wild, and 300 in zoos and breeding centers, many of these are in China.

Focus on the Latest News

There are often stories about zoos and aquariums on websites, or in the newspaper. You can use one of these stories as a means to have your class write about a particular topic. If it is a controversial subject, you can have your students write a persuasive essay.

Recently, a aquatic theme park in San Diego, California, known as SeaWorld, responded to allegations that they had mistreated killer whales, such as the famous Shamu. After a documentary called Blackfish brought the issue to national attention, California lawmakers were considering passing legislation designed to protect killer whales. In the documentary, filmmakers alleged that orcas are traumatized and abused in a variety of ways. SeaWorld is in the process of launching a public relations campaign to fight back against the allegations.

The Possibilities are Endless

While this particular subject might be most appropriate for older classes, there are many other stories involving zoo and aquarium animals that you can use. There was a wonderful story about three young mountain lion cubs who had spent time at the Portland Zoo after being orphaned. Their mother had been killed by a hunter. There is a heartwarming video that your students will love. In it zookeeper Michelle Schireman talks about each of the cougars and about their new home at the North Carolina zoo.

Learning about zoo and aquarium animals can be a blast for everyone in your class. There are so many things students don’t know and want to know about animals, both in captivity and the wild.

Related Resources:

Zoo Habitat Design, Zoo Scavenger Hunt, Making an Ecosystem: Aquarium Lesson

Science Guide

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Cathy Neushul