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Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT) WarmUp Activity: Should Elephants be in Zoos?

Laura Guertin, Penn State University Delaware County
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1) What are some of the health problems elephants in captivity face?

2) Pickrell (2002) states that, "apart from their drawing power as major wildlife attractions, zoo elephants are important for conservation, research, and public education." Can this still be accomplished with the London Zoo and Detroit Zoo having removed their elephants from the "zoo" and placed them in sanctuary? Do you think placing the elephants in new surroundings like a wild animal park will be any different for the animal? Will it hurt or help conservation, research, and public education? Explain.

3) Do elephants belong in zoos or wild animal kingdoms? Do we have any business trying to breed elephants to begin with? Tell me what you think and why.

Student Responses:

See the Just-in-Time Teaching page on assessment for information and ideas on how to evaluate student responses.

Students have commented that this JiTT assignment is "interesting but frustrating at the same time" in terms of wrestling with the ethics of the topic. Some students have mentioned that they were not aware of the health impacts on elephants held in captivity versus the wild. Students typically follow-up in class asking for clarification on what the differences are in the treatment and acquisition of elephants for zoos, wild animal parks, and circuses. Be prepared for specific questions on lifespan and distribution of Asian vs. African elephants and the international endangered species status. An instructor can pursue the topic by asking students if they would have the same opinions if they had never seen an elephant in a zoo? If they had only learned about elephants from photographs in books, would they have the same opinion? Are zoos necessary?

References and Notes:

Articles that students may be assigned to read for this set of questions include (but are not limited to):

Zoo Life Shortens Elephant Lives in Europe, Study Says, National Geographic News, October 2002.

The use of Just-in-Time Teaching is discussed in detail on the JiTT Starting Point page.

Additional information on JiTT is available in the book:

  • Just-in-Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology. Novak et al., 1999 The authors explain what Just-in-Time Teaching is, its underlying goals and philosophies, and how to implement it. They also provide an extensive section of tested resource materials that can be used in introductory physics courses with the JiTT approach. (citation and description)