Guest Blog Post - Bringing Wildlife Conservation into the Classroom by Matthew Payne

Despite my advancing years, I can still remember spending pretty much every waking hour of my childhood with my head firmly stuck in a Wildlife Encyclopaedia, or glued to the television set watching the film ‘Born Free’ on repeat – much to the annoyance of my brother and sister! Instead of spending time with friends, I spent my time copying out line after line of animal facts and adding them to my own fact-files! As you can imagine – I was a very cool kid with lots of friends – if only! This never deterred me though, and since then, my love for animals has continued to blossom! I have also been fortunate enough to travel the world and see some of the animals I spent my childhood reading about.

A coalition of male lions in Kenya
(Source: M Payne)

In addition to travelling, I now spend the majority of my spare time educating young people about wild animals and their conservation! I am extremely proud to be a Trustee of the world renowned lion conservation charity – LionAid. In addition to this, I have also spearheaded the development of their ‘Kids for Lions’ educational programme, which aims to educate young people all around the world about lion conservation through free Skype lessons, free downloadable educational resources and our new ‘Young Ambassadors’ scheme. 

(Source: LionAid)
As you might be aware, over the last 30 years, populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe have dropped by 52%. As a result, the importance of delivering effective in and ex-situ conservation education programs has never been more prevalent. But what most people do not realise is that the lion, one of the most recognisable animals on the planet, is one of those mammals threatened with extinction! The global lion population has crashed dramatically by 85% over the last 50 years and now, barely 15,000 lions remain in Africa, along with a single population of 300+ lions in the Gir Forest of India. At present, lions are extinct in 25 African countries, virtually extinct in 10. Whilst they survive in 14 countries, only 5 populations within these countries are thought to be viable! The sad reality is that if things carry on the way they are, lions WILL become extinct in 10-15 years! So, more than ever, we need the youth of today to find their voice and to join us as we attempt to rally politicians, government departments and people around the world to offer animals like the lion the basic protection they deserve.

Lions are extinct in 25 countries, virtually extinct in 10 and only exist in 14.
(Source: M Payne)
Sadly, lions now face growing list of threats in the wild and in captivity. Whilst habitat loss is the number one threat, there are others such as predator/livestock conflict, prey depletion, isolated genetic populations, disease, and overzealous trophy hunting. However, the most emotive threat facing lions must be the sordid canned hunting industry, which is now supporting the international trade of lion bones for the Traditional Chinese Medicine Market. Right now, over 8,000 lions are currently caged in 200 South African breeding farms, all born and raised for a single reason - so hunters from all around the world can travel there to shoot these lions! In canned hunts, the lions are often drugged whilst they are trapped inside of enclosures so that there is no chance of escape from the hunter’s bullet! Things have got so bad that hunters can even shoot lions via Skype! The reality is that canned hunting provides a 100% guarantee of a trophy for the hunter and over the last few years, it has become more and more popular! Worst still, the bones of these lions are now being shipped over to the Far East to act as replacements for tiger bone.

A drugged lion from a lion breeding farm in South Africa
(Source: Google Images)
Each year, between 700-1000 lions are killed in canned hunts in South Africa! Even more worryingly, na├»ve tourists often pay a high price for the ‘privilege’ of petting, hand-raising or walking alongside these farmed lions, in the belief that they are contributing towards ‘the survival of the species’ and that the lions will one day be re-released back into the wild. Unfortunately, these lions will NEVER see the wild! Instead, they will ultimately be shot by a hunter! The sad reality is that if you have petted a lion cub in South Africa, like celebrities such as Kylie Minogue, Adam Sandler and Shakira, then you have unknowingly supported the canned hunting of lions!
But there is hope! Through education, we can use canned hunting as way of providing young people with an opportunity to write for a real-life purpose. As a result, we can make a difference by educating young people to be responsible tourists and at the same time, inspire them to become conservationists of the future!  
In a recent AMA Year 4 English lesson which I hosted at the school I work in Manchester, I was thrilled to see how passionate all of the pupils which attended were about raising awareness of the horrors of the canned lion hunting industry. To begin with, I introduced the topic by putting a can of baked beans, a picture of a bone and a picture of a lion on each group’s table, and I asked the children to think about what the theme of the lesson might be. After a short discussion, where the pupils’ eventually guessed the theme, I then used a Prezi presentation to provide them with the basic facts about lion conservation, canned hunting and how it is threatening wild populations through the lion bone trade. After this, I challenged the pupils to create News Reports on canned lion hunting using the app ‘iMovie’ on our school IPads. I cannot tell you how inspiring it was for me to see the enthusiasm and passion that the pupils brought to the lesson. In my opinion, the lesson was an overwhelming success, and all of the pupils left educated and enthused. For me, this lesson clearly illustrated the importance of allowing young people the opportunity to work towards a real life purpose! I have always found that young people are desperate to have their voices heard on emotive topics such as wildlife conservation, because it is these topics that really do matter to the current generation of primary school pupils!

Fortunately, there has been a recent rise in the publication of wildlife conservation themed resources for schools, and I hope that more and more teachers will consider using these as ways of getting their pupils to write for a real life purpose. My favourite resource at the moment is the YouTube channel ‘Lion Whisperer TV,’ run by conservationist and friend of LionAid - Kevin Richardson. Kevin is the star of several National Geographic documentaries, and his jaw-dropping short films, featuring himself alongside his rescued lions, never fails to leave my pupils speechless – much to my delight! In particular, I have used his first YouTube video, entitled ‘Lion-The New Endangered Species’ on several occasions. After watching it, I am sure that you will agree that not only is it a beautifully shot video, but there are also countless opportunities to use it to inspire young people to write. In the past, I have used it to generate word banks, as part of a poetry unit, to help children write in the first person as Kevin and one of the lions with the Ipad app ‘Face Time,’ for inspiring setting descriptions, to create newspaper articles and reports based on Kevin’s work and the conservation of lions. Kevin is forever adding more and more videos to his channel, so if you are looking for something a little bit shorter, i.e. for a lesson starter, I am sure you find a suitable video on there.

Kevin Richardson with his lion Meg
(Source: Google Images)
In addition to Kevin’s work, the legendary story of ‘Christian the Lion’ is also an excellent stimulus for young people to learn about lions. There is an excellent documentary entitled ‘A Lion Called Christian’ which tells the story and you can either buy it on DVD or watch for free on YouTube. This heartwarming story is about a lion cub which was bought by two Australian men from Harrods back in the 70s and was eventually released back into the wild in Kenya. The documentary never fails to delight my pupils and I think it is an excellent resource to use to inspire writing as well. The story could be used for as the stimulus for a debate on whether animals should be kept in captivity or not, for pupils to write persuasive letters to the Kenyan government asking them to allow Christian to live there, to write biographies about the life of Christian, for character comparisons using the lions Christian and Boy, and for diary entries to be written either in the role of the humans or the lions.

Christian the Lion
(Source: Google Images)
At LionAid, we also offer free Skype lessons, not only based on ‘canned lion hunting’ but other threats facing wild lions (including a lesson on how we aim to support the Maasai tribes in Kenya to encourage them not to kill lions in retaliation for attacks on their livestock). Furthermore, we have a free downloadable Key Stage 2 teaching pack which can be used to help young people learn about the threats facing lions. I have also self-published my book entitled, ‘A Father’s Pride’ which is fictional tale based upon canned lion hunting and I hope to use it to raise awareness about canned lion hunting in schools.
One of my Skype talks on Canned Hunting
(Source: M Payne)
In my opinion, there has never been a more important time to educate young people about the conservation of endangered species. Young people deserve the right to have their voices heard on these important issues and I hope that through this blog you will have been inspired to give them the opportunity to do so. Whether you teach your pupils about lions or sharks, rhinos or pangolins, it doesn’t matter! The only thing that matters is giving young people the chance to channel their passion into their writing and to feel like they are making a difference. I wanted to end this blog by including a few quotes I received from a set of students in Canada after I had given their class a Skype talk on canned hunting. I hope their words help illustrate the importance of providing young people with real life purposes for writing:
Emily “Thank you so much for bringing what's happening to lions to our attention! It was very surprising to hear, and I hope one day it will be illegal.”
Yzabel “Thank you so much for skyping us! I learned so many new things about lions I’ve never knew before and it's really surprising that people would actually pay that much to shoot a lion and real sad. Hopefully one day this ends and I’ll do my part to help out.”
Lucas “Thank you so much for skyping with us Matthew. It was very sad to learn about what a problem is facing lions. I am very glad however, to know that we have people trying to put a stop to it”
Daniella “This one was so sad but it was so educational - I loved it.”
I have seen first hand the impact linking real life issues with blogging can have on children's writing. You only have to look at what we did with Captive Orca Whales and Save Yupi. This would be another issue that would inspire the children to write with real purpose, raise awareness and hopefully put a stop to this awful tragedy. 
Recently, some children worked with Mr Payne on this issue and created these news reports -

Please make sure you share any work on this topic by contacting Matthew on twitter - @A_Fathers_Pride or emailing Please make sure you share it with me too so I can share it.


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