The Loneliest Animals
Lesson Overview

(Click here for a printer-friendly version of this lesson. Note that the handout “Extinction Stimulation” is not attached to this document.  Please download it separately. )


TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45-minute class periods


The loneliest animals are the last of their kind on the planet. Scientists warn that up to 100 species a day are being pushed toward extinction. Sadly, many of these creatures are endangered because of human actions. Nature: The Loneliest Animals profiles a variety of captive breeding programs, designed to bolster these dwindling animal populations.

Using segments from this program and other Web resources, students will discuss different ways that animal species become extinct, and analyze how human actions can positively and negatively influence a species’ population. Students will also discuss the benefits and challenges of helping an endangered species through captive breeding, and will prepare “news segments” for the class to present research on endangered species.


Students will be able to:

  • Compare and discuss different causes of extinction;
  • Name several currently highly endangered species, and describe how people are trying to bring them back from the brink of extinction;
  • Research an endangered species, and present information from online, print, and broadcast resources in an oral report.



NATURE, The Loneliest Animals, selected segments

Clip 1: Yangtze giant soft shell turtle

Clip 2: Sumatran rhinoceros

Clip 3: Lemurs

Clip 4: Black-Footed Ferret

Clip 5: Imperiled Lives

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Web sites

Yangtze Giant Soft-shell Turtle (China)

Asian Turtle Conservation Network: Rafetus Swinhoei

Fact page on the endangered soft-shell turtle

China’s Turtles: Emblems of a Crisis (New York Times)

Article about the Chinese breeding effort for Rafetus Swinhoei

Sumatran Rhinoceros (Sumatra, Indonesia)

International Rhino Foundation:

Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

[NOTE: page features graphic photo of two rhinos mating.]

Information about Sumatran Rhinos from the Indonesian sanctuary

Sumatran Rhino

General information about the endangered Sumatran Rhino

News from the Field – International Rhino Foundation Blog

Latest news in Rhino research

Lemurs (Madagascar); including Golden-Crowned Sifaka

Duke University Lemur Center

Information on the many species of lemur at the Duke University Center, including the endangered Golden-Crowned Sifaka

Black-Footed Ferret (United States)

Prairie Wildlife Research

Black-footed ferret conservation information


National Science Education Standards

LIFE SCIENCE: Content Standard C

As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of

  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms
    • Biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations. Species acquire many of their unique characteristics through biological adaptation, which involves the selection of naturally occurring variations in populations. Biological adaptations include changes in structures, behaviors, or physiology that enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment.

o        Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient to allow its survival. Fossils indicate that many organisms that lived long ago are extinct. Extinction of species is common; most of the species that have lived on the earth no longer exist.


As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of

  • Populations, Resources, and Environments
    • When an area becomes overpopulated, the environment will become degraded due to the increased use of resources.
    • Causes of environmental degradation and resource depletion vary from region to region and from country to country.


For the class:

  • One computer with Internet access and audiovisual projection system, for screening video segments
  • “Last of their Kind” Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)
  • [Optional - toothpicks, stopwatch, and flour, for the Extinction Simulation extension activity - see the "Loneliest Animals Extinction Simulation" (PDF)

For each group of 2-3 students:

  • Computer with Internet access

For each student:

  • “Causes of Extinction” Student Organizer (PDF)(RTF)
  • “Last of their Kind?” Student Organizer (PDF) (RTF)
  • “Explore a Species” Student Organizer (PDF) (RTF)


Preview all of the video segments and Web sites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Make copies of student organizers listed in the “Materials” section.


  • stephanie

    I really like this vedeo of the Lonleiest animals because it really states that there are people out their who care about those cridicaly endangered species. I aslo like the work sheets along with the vidoe clips, thanks.

  • Michael Hoke

    I am director of a Botanical Garden and Nature Center in East Texas. We would like to show the video “The Loneliest Animals to a group pf 60 students in our theater next summer. We need to find our how we can get permission in writing to do this since our Foundation is very careful on copyrights. We are non-profit and do not charge for our education programs. Michael Hoke, Manager, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Orange, Texas

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