Recently, MSU postdoc and BEACONite Aaron Wagner received a call from a group of third graders at Riverside Elementary School in Oneonta, New York, asking to talk with him about how to save the striped hyena. Their teacher, Mr. Ken Sider, explains:
During our social studies unit on Kenya, we read an article from a Kenyan newspaper about two children who found “kittens” on their way to their rural school between Mombasa and Tsavo National Park. They took the small animals to a game warden who identified the animals as striped hyena cubs, not kittens. This incident became big news in Kenya because the striped hyena is an endangered species. We then watched a news program about this story on KTN (Kenya Television News). The kids were immediately in love with the cubs.
At a class meeting, Jasmine asked if the striped hyena would still be alive when she is a grown up. No one knew the answer. This was the conversation that shifted our class’s attention to the plight of the striped hyena. The class immediately decided to do something to help. We split up into groups and did research. We expected to find an organization dedicated to protecting and saving the striped hyena, but we found none. We amassed a fine collection of facts and photographs, but no easy route to saving the hyena. I worked with a small group of third graders during our computer lab time to identify sources of support for our project. We happened upon a scientist named Dr. Aaron Wagner whose study of striped hyena social organization and ecology has secured his position as a striped hyena expert in the United States. Dr. Wagner’s article in the scientific, peer-reviewed journal Animal Behaviour, was a source of helpful information. We were able to read many parts and understand them! Additionally, Dr. Wagner has an informative website describing and illustrating his work. We studied his video clips of recordings of striped hyenas filmed during his field work in Kenya.
Aaron spoke to the class over Skype and answered all of their questions about striped hyenas and the best way to help save them. They are now working to petition the Wildlife Conservation Society to devote resources and attention to saving this threatened species.
On December 8, the class took their Save the Striped Hyena! campaign to SUNY Oneonta, where they participated in the “Sounds of Africa” celebration, a festival dedicated to West African culture. The students got to see professional drummers and dancers, eat West African food, and meet many other students, teachers, and professors from our area. Before performing on their class set of djembes, the students handed out flyers with information about the striped hyena and asked people to contact the Wildlife Conservation Society for support. They carried their Save the Striped Hyena sign and waited impatiently for their turn to perform. The audience was very impressed by their 8-minute performance which included simple rhythms, call and response, two-part rhythms, West African beats, and a school cheer performed on drums. They were a hit in their striped hyena t-shirts.
The third graders have also worked to put together a “glog,” which is a kind of interactive poster, to help educate people about the striped hyena through a multidimensional, multidisciplinary, and multimedia experience. You can see the glog below, or click here to see the full size!
BEACON is very impressed by these students, and we are proud to help them in their educational and outreach efforts.