1. Activate students’ prior knowledge about big cats.
Discuss with students what they think of when they think of “big cats.” Ask: What images come to mind? What are some types of big cats that you can think of? Where do they live? Elicit from students that big cats include lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, ocelots, cougars, and other large predatory cats. The largest of the big cats—lions, tigers, and leopards—live in parts of Africa and Asia. Explain that big cat populations are in decline throughout the world. Most species are either threatened or endangered due to human-cat conflicts. Ask: What types of human-cat conflicts can you think of? In other words, what human activities or behaviors might threaten the survival of big cats? Elicit from students that as human populations increase and encroach on big cat habitat, humans and cats are forced to compete for food and space. Additional conflicts include illegal poaching and retaliatory killings when big cats prey on livestock. Due to a loss of habitat and their natural prey, some big cats attack and kill humans.
2. Have students read aloud the article and answer comprehension questions.
Distribute a copy of the worksheet Big Cats Article Comprehension Questions to each student. Read aloud the worksheet directions. As a whole class, have students take turns reading aloud the article. Then have students work independently to answer the comprehension questions in Part 1 of the worksheet. Use the provided answer key to discuss the answers to the questions in Part 1 as a class.
3. Have pairs identify problems and solutions related to big cat populations in Africa.
Divide students into pairs. Read aloud the directions for Part 2 of the worksheet. Explain that students will first work with partners to identify three different problems related to declining big cat populations in Africa. Then partners will identify solutions that researchers and conservationists are using to address those three problems. After pairs have completed Part 2, use the provided answer key to discuss their answers as a whole class.
4. Have students reflect on and discuss what they learned about the decline of big cats.
Using what they learned throughout the activity and from the article, ask students to list on the board at least three ways human-cat conflicts contribute to the decline of big cat populations. Discuss why big cat species are important and should be protected. Elicit from students that as top predators, big cats are keystone species that keep ecosystems balanced and healthy. Ask students to list on the board two ways researchers and conservationists are working to address human-cat conflicts and protect big cats. Elicit from students that the work of researchers like Dr. Pimm is helping us better understand the problems of habitat loss, livestock kills, and poaching. The work of conservationists and projects like the Big Cats Initiative are helping to find solutions to these human-cat conflicts. Explain that conservation efforts that include education, habitat preservation, legislation, and enforcement measures help protect big cat populations.
5. Encourage students to get involved in National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.
Display the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative website. Explain that the site includes videos, images, and articles that will teach them more about the project and how they can become involved in halting the decline of big cat species throughout the world. Encourage students to access the site on their own.