science education resource

For K-12 Students • Educators • Homeschool Families • Naturalists

Who’s Gone Extinct?

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In studying man and the environment, it is easy to think that humans have caused all the extinctions of animals in the world so far. In fact most extinctions happened millions of years before humans even lived on Earth. We know from the fossil record that thousands of prehistoric species of animals and plants have lived on Earth and over time went extinct, including all the dinosaurs. Scientists studying the fossil record have found that there were five big mass extinctions prehistorically where whole orders of animals died out.

A smaller, but important extinction happened about 14,000 years ago, called the end-Pleistocene extinctions. This was where a lot of large animals went extinct in a short period of time, many of them right here in North America. This was when North American animals like the woolly mammoth, mastodon, ground sloth, horse, camel, and lion disappeared.

Scientists have many theories about what happened to cause the end-Pleistocene extinctions. Climate change could have been one reason, because during that time there was a dramatic change in the Earth’s climate as world temperature rose at the end of the last ice age. Another reason could have been that early man had finally migrated to reach North America and started hunting. If humans affected certain important keystone species by over hunting, it could have triggered many other extinctions as well.

Today, we are aware of the importance of protecting endangered species and their habitats. It may be too late for many species that have gone extinct throughout the world in recent times because of the actions of humans, like the passenger pigeon, stellar sea cow, dodo, moa and quagga – all of which have disappeared in the last 400 years. Now many very endangered animals are being watched and taken care of in the hopes of their return to safe numbers. Hopefully, knowing the importance of healthy habitats and learning from the experiences with keystone species, we can keep any more animals from going extinct by the careless actions of humans. We can be part of the solution.

What is Being Done?

There are many animals that are close to extinction from habitat loss. The giant panda, tiger, snow leopard, and mountain gorilla are among them. What can be done to save them from extinction?

  • Protect the habitats in which they live.
  • Ban hunting and guard against poaching.
  • Ban any products made from them.
  • Do a big ad campaign everywhere, so people know not to buy them and want to save them.

What You Can Do To Help

There are also many ways you and your family can help a little bit to stop endangered animals from going extinct. If everyone helped a little, it might add up to a big difference.

  • Never buy, sell or own anything made from ivory. Even legal ivory sales drive the sale of poached ivory and the possible eventual extinction of elephants. Remember all ivory represents the death of an elephant or walrus.
  • Don’t support coral reef poachers. Never buy coral for your fish tank unless it is been stamped with Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) stamp. This makes sure the coral was raised for aquariums and not poached from a wild reef.
  • Don’t keep exotic animal pets, even if you see them at the pet store. The exotic animal pet trade, though legal if regulated in the U.S., is not regulated in all countries around the world. So owning exotic animals drives the hunting and capture of exotic species. It’s best to leave wild animals in their natural habitat.
  • Join a good conservation organization that supports preservation of habitat where endangered animals live. See a list below from which to choose some of the good organizations.
  • Spread the word!

The Cousteau Society

870 Greenbriar Circle, Suite 402

Chesapeake, VA 23320

www.cousteausociety.org

Educates the public about natural ecosystems.

Earthwatch

3 Clock Tower Place, Suite 100, Box 75

Maynard, MA 01754

www.earthwatch.org

Promotes the conservation of our natural resources and cultural heritage through research, education, and conservation.

Environmental Defense Fund

1875 Connecticut Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20009

www.edf.org

Works to protect clean air, water, and human health. Educates people on endangered species, rainforests, and recycling.

Friends of the Earth

1025 Vermont Ave., NW, Suite 300

Washington, DC 20005

www.foe.org

To defend the environment and champion a healthy and just world.

Greenpeace, USA

1436 U St. NW

Washington, DC 20009

www.greenpeaceusa.org

Works to preserve the earth and the life it supports. It has almost 2 million supporters.

Keep American Beautiful, Inc.

1010 Washington Boulevard

Stamford, CT 06901

www.kab.org

To engage individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community environments.

National Audubon Society

700 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

www.audubon.org

Tells people how to use wildlife, land, water, and other natural resources intelligently.

The National Environmental Trust

1200 18th Street, N.W., Fifth Floor

Washington, D.C. 20036

www.net.org

Informs citizens about environmental problems such as global warming, ocean conservation, energy, and clean air.

National Wildlife Federation

8925 Leesburg Pike

Vienna, VA 22184

www.nwf.org

Works to protect nature and wildlife.

Natural Resources Defense Council

40 West 20th Street

New York, NY 10011

www.nrdc.org

An influential lobbying and litigating group on environmental issues.

The Nature Conservancy

4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100

Arlington, VA 22203-1606

www.nature.org

Works to preserve plants and animals by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

Rainforest Alliance

65 Bleecker Street

New York, NY 10012

www.rainforest-alliance.org

Works to save tropical rain forests worldwide.

The Sierra Club

85 Second Street, Second Floor

San Francisco, CA 94105-3441

www.sierraclub.org

Works to preserve national parks and wilderness areas.

Trees for Life

3006 W. St. Louis

Wichita, KS 67203

www.treesforlife.org

Helps people in the developing countries plant and care for food-bearing trees.

World Wildlife Fund

1250 24th Street NW

Washington, DC 20037

www.worldwildlife.org

Dedicated to protecting the world's wildlife and wildlands.

Activity

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Testing and Assessment

Assess content comprehension about Topics about Endangered Species with the Mutiple Choice Test.

Assess student knowledge of which animals are endangered with the Endangered Animal Labeling Page.

Use the Endangered Animal Coloring Page as a model to reinforce this knowledge.

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Exploringnature.org has more than 2,000 illustrated animals. Read about them, color them, label them, learn to draw them.