CSI Rhino


Weighing in at nearly 8,000 pounds, an adult rhinoceros has very few natural predators. In spite of this, rhinos are struggling to survive in the modern world. Fortunately, today’s rhinos are receiving help from a variety of sources. In this lesson, students will create a graphic representation of the rhinoceros populations. They will also examine how science is used to help maintain and increase rhinoceros populations. Finally, students will research what is being done around the world to protect rhinoceros and design a plan for an organization that will work to save a particular rhinoceros species.
Grade Level: Grades 9-12
Subject Areas: Science, Math, Language Arts
Learning Objectives

Students will be able to do the following:

  • collect and organize data in a graph.
  • find the melting point of a substance.
  • identify an unknown using chromatography.
  • research and create a plan for an organization to protect rhinoceros.


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Level III [Grade 9-12]
Language Arts

Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

    5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience’s background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers)

    6. Uses strategies to adapt writing for different purposes (e.g., to explain, inform, analyze, entertain, reflect, persuade)
    7. Writes expository compositions (e.g., synthesizes and organizes information from first- and second-hand sources, including books, magazines, computer data banks, and the community; uses a variety of techniques to develop the main idea [names, describes, or differentiates parts; compares or contrasts; examines the history of a subject; cites an anecdote to provide an example; illustrates through a scenario; provides interesting facts about the subject]; distinguishes relative importance of facts, data, and ideas; uses appropriate technical terms and notations)


Standard 6. Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis

    Benchmark 1. Selects and uses the best method of representing and describing a set of data (e.g., scatter plot, line graph, two-way table)

Nature of Science

Standard 12. Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

    Benchmark 4. Uses technology (e.g., hand tools, measuring instruments, calculators, computers) and mathematics (e.g., measurement, formulas, charts, graphs) to perform accurate scientific investigations and communications


    Benchmark 6. Knows that scientists conduct investigations for a variety of reasons (e.g., to discover new aspects of the natural world, to explain recently observed phenomena, to test the conclusions of prior investigations, to test the predictions of current theories)

    Standard 13. Understands the scientific enterprise
    Benchmark 1. Knows that, throughout history, diverse cultures have developed scientific ideas and solved human problems through technology
    Benchmark 5. Understands that science involves different types of work in many different disciplines (e.g., scientists in different disciplines ask different questions, use different methods of investigation, and accept different types of evidence to support their explanations; many scientific investigations require the contributions of individuals from different disciplines; new disciplines of science, such as geophysics and biochemistry, often emerge at the interface of older disciplines)

Procedures for Teachers
Introductory Activity:

Time for completion: Allow about 50 minutes for research and graph creation. Additional time may be used for sharing of graphs.
The purpose of this activity is to expose students to the rhinoceros population and organize the information they find in a graph. Students will share their findings with the class.

  1. Using the Interactive Map on the Nature website, and/or other Internet resources, ask students to locate data on rhinoceros populations and create a graph that represents their findings. Students may choose to report the population of rhinos over a span of years, populations of species of rhinos today, population of rhinos for a given time by country or continent, or other information that lends itself to being graphed.
  2. Based on students’ skills, a review of the necessary parts of a graph may be needed. Remind students to include title, labels, units, even intervals, and key. Also, remind students that the table should be neat and easy to read.
  3. Ask students to write a short news article about their findings, using the graph as a visual aid in support of the findings.

Activity One
Time for completion: About 15 minutes to watch a portion of “Rhinoceros” and hold a class discussion. The rest of the class period to create the chromatography key. One additional class period to identify the “poached” rhino through melting point determination and chromatography identification.
Scientists use sophisticated instruments to identify unknown substances. When a rhinoceros horn appears on the black market, scientists can look at its make-up and identify where the particular rhinoceros lived. One test used in this identification examines the rhino DNA and a second test uses mass spectrometry to measure amounts of carbon and nitrogen in the horn sample. In this activity students will perform two lab experiments to parallel these identification techniques. They will be asked to find the melting point of a substance that will parallel a DNA test to identify the species of rhino. Then they will identify a substance using chromatography, which will parallel the mass spectrometry test to identify the rhino’s habitat. Students will then write a conclusion paper identifying the mock poached rhino.

  1. Begin by watching “Rhino” from 9:19 to 12:06.
  2. After watching the program, involve students in a discussion of the program. The following is a list of questions that may be used in the discussion:
    • How are scientists able to identify where a rhino has lived?
    • How is science used to track down rhinoceros poachers?
  3. Ask students to create a key for the chromatography test. Provide each student with a large piece of filter paper and a small semi-circle of filter paper. Ask students to make a hole in the center of the large filter paper. Label five different water soluble black markers with the letters A, B, C, D & E. Ask students to place one dot from each marker in a circle near the center of a piece of filter paper, and label the dots with a ballpoint pen. Next, roll the small piece of filter paper into a cone shape and place through the hole in the large piece of filter paper.

    Place this set-up on top of a water-filled beaker. The water will work its way up the cone-shaped filter paper, then outward from the center of the large piece of filter paper. Allow this to continue until the water nears the edge of the filter paper. This will be saved and used to identify the unknown.

  4. The next day provide students with a sample of an unknown solid compound. Using established lab practices, ask students to identify the melting point of their given solid. Teacher note: The following website provides a melting point of a solid technique: http://www.wiredchemist.com/chemistry/instructional/chem_lab_melting.htmlHere are some possible compounds; however, this list may be altered depending on lab supplies.
  5. Provide each student with a piece of filter paper with one black dot on it (using one of the five markers used the previous day.) Students repeat the chromatography set-up. Ask students to compare this chromatography with the key they created the previous day.
  6. Give each student a copy of the “Rhino Identification” chart. Teacher Note: This will reflect the compounds and black markers used in class and will need to be edited according to your compounds and markers used.
  7. Ask students to identify the mock poached rhino using the data collected, and then write a summary of their conclusion.

Activity Two
There is a significant movement targeting the preservation of the rhinoceros that can be seen worldwide, with a multitude of people providing aid. Law enforcement is active in protecting the existing population, while the scientific world is offering its aid through poacher identification, animal tracking and artificial insemination, as well as a great number of individuals who volunteer time and money to assist in this endeavor. In this activity, students will research what is being done around the world to protect rhinoceros and design a plan for an organization that will work to save a particular rhinoceros species.
Time for completion: One class period for explanation, discussion and research; allow 3-5 days for outside research and organization plan creation.

  1. Divide the class into small groups. Assign, or let groups choose, one of the following rhinos for the assignment:
      black rhino, white rhino, Indian rhino, Javan rhino, and Sumatran rhino. Explain to students that they are going to gather information about their assigned rhino and outline a plan for an organization that will work to protect the rhino.
  2. Pass out the “Protect the Rhino Organization” organizer. Take a few minutes to review the organizer with students so that they have a clear understanding of the expectations of the assignment. The organizer contains the information listed below.
      • Rhino Species
      • Scientific name and origin
      • Physical characteristics including size, horn, and other features
      • Life expectancy
      • Social structure
      • Habitat
      • Diet
      • Current population
      • Distribution throughout the world
      • Little known facts
      • Current threats to rhino
    • Gathering Rhino Information

  3. Explain to students that they are going use the information they collect in the organizer to create a written plan that outlines the details of their organization.
      • Organization Name
      • One paragraph that explains the mission of your organization and what need your organization will fill
      • A slogan or tag line for the organization
      • A logo for your organization
      • One or two paragraphs that describe the rhino and its environment
      • A map that shows the distribution of the rhino
      • A paragraph that explains the threats to the rhino
      • One or two paragraphs that outline the actions that your organization will take to protect the rhinos (Don’t be afraid to brainstorm new and unusual ideas that could be used to help protect the rhino.)
      • A paragraph that explains where you will get the money needed to operate your organization
    • Items to Include in Plan

  4. Students may use information from the program, the Internet, or other resources, to complete this assignment. The following websites are a good resource to use for this activity:
  5. Remind students that the final product needs to be neat, organized, and well written.

Assessment Suggestions
The “Rhinoceros Population Graph” rubric may be used to assess the graphs created in the introductory activity. The “Protect the Rhino Organization” report may be used to evaluate what students have learned from the assignment.
Extension Activity
According to Rhino SOS, the cost of saving a rhino is estimated at $250,000 per year. Initiate a class debate regarding this issue. Argue the justification of these costs.
About the Author
This lesson was prepared by Rebecca Walters, an associate of Digital Narratives llc. Rebecca is a graduate of Northern Michigan University and currently holds a degree in chemistry and math. Rebecca has worked as both a public school educator and an education consultant over the past fifteen years.

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