Updated: Apr 18, 2019
So far the focus of my blog posts for Outdoortopia has been on education reform and integrating outdoor and experiential education (OEE) into our education system by focusing on ecological literacy and broader sustainability issues, particularly through the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty and provide the know-how to create real change and impact through outdoor learning. The incredible benefits of learning experientially outdoors have been covered previously (see related posts below).
Experiential education is a hands-on approach to teaching and it works wonderfully well for teaching topics outdoors that relate to ecology, conservation and the need to protect endangered wildlife.
The activity outlined in this latest blog post is called 'Predator-Prey', a classic environmental education game. This version of the game features the slow loris, a small cute mammal and the clouded leopard, an endangered species of wild cat. Both species are found in the tropical forests of South East Asia.
However, please note that Predator-Prey can easily be adapted to match any predator-prey relationship and ecosystem on Earth.
Site: Large flat area or clearing in the forest
Duration: 45 minutes - 1 hour
Academic Level: Primary - Adult
Author/Source: Adapted from Yosemite Institute
1. Understand predator and prey population dynamics
2. Explore the effects of national park development on the species living within the park
3. Explore personal values connected with national park tourism and development
Teamwork, observation, analysis, synthesis
Environmental science, ecology, geography, social studies
Slow lorises are nocturnal animals which eat small animals, fruit, tree gum, and other vegetation
Being arboreal, slow lorises live in the forest canopy
Lorises have a toxic bite, a trait rare among mammals
Lorises came crashing into global public awareness recently due to a viral video that showed a cute loris being kept as a pet
Lorises are hunted by clouded leopards, a species of wild cat that are expert tree climbers and nocturnal predators
Clouded leopards and slow lorises are endangered species that are commonly caught up in the illegal animal trade in Asia
Prepare the Game
To play Predator-Prey you'll need:
Two color laminated A4 cards showing each of your species (one side in the wild and the other in captivity)
Participant backpacks or a 50m length of rope
10 loris balls (simply newspaper screwed up into balls and wrapped in synthetic material to create 'bombs' with a short tail or old socks tied in knots)
A reflection worksheet
Lay a rope (or several student rucksacks) in a circle on flat ground to create an irregular shape. Feel free to incorporate tall trees, particularly if you require shade from the sun.
This roped area represents your protected national park - if you're playing this game within a real national park or you have one nearby then even better!
Step 1: Elicit Prior Understanding
Finding out what your students already know about your topic is the first step in any experiential learning quest. It’s important that you ask what the students think about the topic you'd like to teach, as their answers will give you an idea of any prior knowledge your students may have.
Step 2: Engage
Engage the group with a Pow! to spark the group's interest and attention. Hold up the two A4 cards of the wild slow loris and clouded leopard, one at a time, and ask if any of the children have seen either species before. Which is the predator and which is the prey in this relationship?
Step 3: Explore
Ask everyone to gather around in a big circle, sitting or standing. Set the story.
What is a national park?
What is special about national parks?
Why are they so important for conservation?
Have the students been to a national park before?
How are slow lorises specially adapted to their habitat?
How are clouded leopards specially adapted for hunting prey in tropical forests?
Step 4: Explain
1. Each participant is assigned as a slow loris or a clouded leopard at the beginning of the game. For an average class size of 20-30 students, begin with just 2-3 clouded leopards. The rest of the players start the game as lorises.
2. None of the players may leave the safety of the national park at any time during the game, as marked by the barrier rope. If any player leaves the park boundaries, they face the dangers of human settlements (e.g. traffic, domestic animals, disease etc.) and are out of the game.
3. Clouded leopards must throw the loris balls at the slow lorises aiming anywhere from the neck down. Please note, for saftey reasons head shots don't count. This throwing action represents the leopards pouncing on the lorises, just like in the wild. Leopards must walk (not run) and, when they take a shot at the lorises, they must be stood stationary. Lorises can run and dodge the clouded leopards as much as needed to avoid being hit by a loris balls.
4. Once hit, the slow lorises become clouded leopards. Just like in the wild, the more prey available for the predators to hunt, the more they can breed, resulting in a rapid population explosion of the predators. In ecology, this waxing and waning between predator and prey abundance is known as population dynamics.
Step 5: Activity
Round 1: National Park Established
Blow the whistle to start the round, slowly drip feeding additional loris balls into the game as required. Allow the round to be played for a few minutes to ensure that the population of clouded leopards has increased. Pause the game by blowing the whistle and ask everyone to gather round for a brief discussion.
#1 Ask the players: Count up how many lorises are left and how many leopards there now are. How easy or difficult was it to hunt the lorises or escape being hunted by the leopards?
Round 2: Tourism Begins
Before beginning the next round, explain to the players that a few hundred tourists per year are beginning to trickle into our national park, to experience its natural beauty and catch a glimpse of its rare wildlife.
#1 Ask the players: What facilities do tourists need in order to enjoy their time at our national park? Most participants will point to the need for facilities, such as a visitor center, a café, a souvenir shop, toilets, a campsite and so on.
Now reduce the area of our protected habitat by shifting the park barrier inwards by approximately 10-15%. This represents the habitat loss and deforestation required to build our new facilities.
Play the game again slowly adding loris balls as needed.
#2 Ask the players: At the end of the round, ask how many leopards and lorises are left this time. Was it tougher or easier to escape from the predators?
Round 3: Tourism Rises
This time explain to the players that recent news reports in Germany and Korea have led to a big jump in international tourist numbers. Now we are seeing 10s of thousands of visitors each year in our national park, as it gains popularity worldwide as a top adventure destination.
1# Ask the players: What else might we now need to accommodate our additional guests? Possible answers include hotels, guest houses, restaurants, shops, trash disposal, car parks and so on. Respond by reducing the area of our protected national park by an additional 10-15% to make room for our new facilities.
Play the game again with increasing pressures on the park due to human impacts linked to the recent rise in tourist numbers. It should now be getting tougher and tougher to escape the predators, leading to rapid spikes in clouded leopard populations early on in the game.
2# Ask the players: At the end of the round, ask how many leopards and how many lorises are left this time. Was it more or less challenging to escape from the leopards this round?
Round 4: Road Kill
For the final round, explain that both domestic and foreign tourists are hearing and reading brilliant things on social media and in travel magazines about the amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery in our pristine park, and they want a piece of the action (who can blame them)! With hundreds of thousands of visitors now coming year-on-year, we need to find better ways to get tourists in and out - mud roads simply won't do anymore!
1# Ask the players: What could we do to make sure it's simple and convenient to access our national park and its facilities? Players will usually identify the need to build better tarmac roads for cars, buses and taxis to bring visitors in and out.
Now it's time to build a road right through the center of our park by laying two parallel lines of rope approximately half a meter in width from one side of our protected area to the other. This represents habitat fragmentation, as some animals are simply too afraid to cross over the road and can no longer access the other side. And those which do cross, run the risk of becoming road kill!
This time 2 players are assigned as cars at the beginning of the round. Their job is to walk up and down the new road with their hands out, as if they are driving a car. If any daring clouded leopards or slow lorises brave crossing the road, they now run the risk of being hit by a car. The car drivers may tag either species if they get too close, and once 'hit' by a car, players must step out of the game as road kill victims.
2# Ask the players: At the end of the round, ask how many leopards and how many lorises are left this time. How many road kill accidents were there? Was it more or less challenging to escape from the leopards this round?
Step 6: Evaluate
Reflect on the group's experience of being a slow loris and a clouded leopard.
How did they feel playing the game?
How did they feel when they were clouded leopards?
How did the changes between rounds affect the ability of the leopards to hunt the lorises?
How did the reduced habitat area affect the slow lorises' ability to escape the predators?
How did the game reflect the real-world? How was it different?
Step 7: Elaborate
Now evaluate the lessons of the game and consolidate the new knowledge and vocabulary learned. On the reverse of the A4 animal cards, show participants an image of slow lorises and clouded leopards in captivity. How does this make the group feel?
Key environmental concepts you may wish to cover include:
Conservation of endangered species
Ilegal animal trade
Human pressures on wildlife and national parks
Ask the students to complete a reflection worksheet to connect them with their inner emotions and clarify their understanding of the game.
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