Background for Teachers

Cover - Conserving Critters

What's Conservation?

Our focus is on wildlife conservation because of the nature of this month's topic, however, we hope we've opened the door to other, broader discussions about conservation in your classroom by introducing the term "resources." Since the formal definition of conservation is "the wise use of resources" the larger subject includes many other arenas including soil and water conservation.

Our paper/trees/forest example is admittedly oversimplified, especially given that today most paper is derived from forests that are grown specifically for the purposes of being harvested. However, we used this example because, for most children, trees make easily observed habitats. Even children who are city-dwellers can usually spot birds in trees in order to make the habitat connection.

Make sure your children understand that throughout time animals have gone extinct naturally and that humans don't cause all extinctions. However, the rate of extinctions has significantly increased in proportion to human population growth.

Children need to be aware that habitats serve unique animals in unique ways. Compare the unique needs of humans and how that determines the types of homes we live in. For example, ask the children to consider the different needs those with disabilities or those who don't own a car might have for housing.

Help the children understand that for animals, habitats also provide food. Continue comparing the unique needs of humans and how those needs determine what we eat. Use human food allergies and health needs to draw parallels between how certain habitats provide the foods that certain animals must have to survive.

Sum up the discussion by impressing upon your students that habitats must satisfy both the unique housing and food requirements of unique animals. Explain that the more unique these needs the more apt a species is to become endangered, or the more it may need our help with conservation.

Conservation Success Stories

The success stories we've shared have been generally grouped according to "most" successful to "least." That is to say that, roughly, the animals listed first have responded best to conservation efforts and those listed last still need the most work. Make sure the children know this so they aren't fooled into thinking that these animals are completely out of the woods just yet. There is still much work to be done!

Host a discussion on how children can contribute to conservation efforts. Help them understand that they can begin in their very own neighborhoods. Children need to feel empowered and they can be!

The future health of our wildlife depend on our children. We need them to grow up believing that they can make a difference. We'd love your help in imbuing them with that belief. Our goal is to engage the children of Texas not only in loving our wildlife but in their own abilities!

Ask the children how they think the animals featured this month became success stories. What did people have to do to begin the process? What did they have to believe in? Ask the children what they think. Ask what they would have done.

Buck White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer:

A successful outdoor industry driven by white-tailed deer attracts thousands of enthusiasts to Texas every year. That's helped white-tail conservation efforts pay off in more ways than ever expected. One way is that the many acres landowners set aside for these game animals also saves habitat for some other Texas critters.

Bald Eagle:

Bald Eagle - Kodiak, Alaska

Every year bald eagles return to Texas to nest, usually in late fall. Use a search engine to find a nesting site near you. Since there are at least 200 known nesting pairs, chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to find one within a few hours' drive.

This 9 ½ minute long Texas Parks and Wildlife video, "Texas Eagles on the Move," tells the conservation success story of the bald eagle. (Bald eagles were taken off the endangered species list in 1994.) We suggest you view it before discussing the bald eagle with your students. You might also want to show it to your kiddos, but it may not hold the attention of all learners as it was created for adult audiences. Go to:

Brown Pelican:

Brown Pelican-2

Brown pelicans actually first received protection under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918, but it wasn't until they were protected under the Endangered Species Act that the birds actually found real relief. Find out more by reading this Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine article, "Brown Pelican Resurrection" by Wendee Holtcamp at:

American Alligator - 3

American Alligator:

American alligators first got help here in Texas when folks noticed that these giant reptiles just weren't floating around our wetlands like they used to. Today, they are doing quite well thanks to programs like the one at Brazos Bend State Park where baby alligators receive incubation on an as-need basis.

Read this article by Mary O. Parker about "Saving Gator Babies" at:

Eastern Wild Turkey

Eastern Turkey:

Historically, eastern wild turkeys inhabited the upland forests of east Texas, but by 1942 native populations fell to less than 100 birds. Restoration efforts began in the early 1940s and have continued since then with mixed results. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department initiated a 2007 field-based super-stocking program in which a total of 347 birds were translocated to four sites in east Texas. The program seems to be going well, though final results have yet to be determined.

Carrying Ram
Transporting Ewe

Desert Bighorn Sheep:

Recently desert bighorn sheep have garnered attention as one of our biggest success stories. Read the article, "Regal Return" in the April 2011 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine by Wendee Holtcamp for details of the great news!

Map where Bighorns travel

This map shows the historical distribution of the three subspecies of desert bighorn in the United States. As you can see, Texas has never had as large a population as other places where the sheep have resided.

Check out this MSNBC.COM video outlining the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's desert big horn sheep reintroduction efforts:

Peregrine Falcon Chick

This nestling is being raised in captivity. That's one way numbers of peregrine falcons have been increased. Once ready, this chick will be released to the wild.

Peregrine Falcon:

Many consider the peregrine as one of conservation's greatest success stories (along with the bald eagle) and testament to the horrible effects of DDT. Unfortunately, DDT is still used in other countries, including Mexico, from which U.S. consumers purchase much of their produce.

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle - 2

This female heads ashore on Padre Island National Seashore as she looks to nest. See how she blends in with her surroundings? When driving along the sandy seashore during nesting season (mid-April to early-July) be extra careful! Sea turtles are EXTREMELY slow.

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle:

This uplifting video (about 9 ½ minutes long) outlines the conservation history of the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. It features Dr. Donna Shaver and her dog Ridley, who helps find sea turtle nests so the eggs can be relocated to incubators where they'll be safe. Don't miss it!

Sea Turtle's Eggs

Collecting eggs for incubation. The temperature of incubation will determine if the turtle will be born male or female.

Whooping Crane Egg

Even though the female normally lays two eggs, typically only one hatches.

Whooping Crane:

In 1937, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the wintering grounds of the whooping crane.

Unfortunately, even though the actual place is protected, the water that fills this space is in peril. Due to increasing upstream water use and droughts, the amount of freshwater flowing in to fill the estuary continues to decline. Because of that, the health of the "whoopers’" estuary habitat may be in trouble. Of course, the whooping crane isn't the only species being affected; so too are the other plants and animals that live in and near the estuary.

Conservationists and many others are currently working to find solutions and come to some sort of agreement about how freshwater headed toward estuaries should be regulated in Texas.

This 3-minute video, brought to you by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, touches on that issue and others:

Houston Toad - 2

Houston Toad:

Learn about the role the Houston Zoo played in helping with the recovery of the Houston Toad at: The article, "A Kiss for a Toad," is by Wendee Holtcamp.

The site also features a 3-minute video, however, you may first want to preview it before deciding whether to share with your children as it shows toads mating.

Aplomado Falcon - 2

Aplomado Falcon:

These absolutely beautiful birds are still very rare in Texas, but when you spot one you have a good chance of spotting two; they usually travel in pairs. According to the non-profit Peregrine Fund - World Center for Birds of Prey, as of 2008 there are more than 40 wild pairs in Texas. Many of these came from birds raised in captivity and released into the wild in south Texas. Focus is now on increasing the west-Texas population.


Texas Conservationists

"Lady Bird" Johnson:

"Lady Bird" Johnson, the wife of our 36th President, Lyndon B. Johnson, lived to be 94 years old. By the time she passed away in 2007, she left behind an impressive legacy of conservation. For our nation she instigated the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 and took charge of significantly beautifying the Capitol. Among her contributions to Texas are the Lady Bird Johnson National Wildflower Research Center, the Town Lake Beautification Project in Austin, the state's capital, and the 1969 Texas Highway Beautification Awards.

John Graves:

Texas State University used John Graves' book for its 2007-2008 Common Experience course, which is required of all entering freshmen. The university feels that Graves' work expresses themes that bridge many common human experiences. This link not only gives some interesting insights into the book and man's connection to nature, but it also has some links of its own worth perusing:

Graves' work to conserve Texas' rivers continued long after his book was published.

Roy Bedichek:

KERA, the Dallas/Fort Worth PBS affiliate, produced an acclaimed documentary titled, "Roy Bedichek's Vanishing Frontier." For more information visit:

Kathryn Hunter has written an article in Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine that talks about Graves’ and Bedichek’s books (in addition to some others you might want to read). Hunter has done a beautiful job of capturing the essence of these writers here:

[As an interesting side note, Roy Bedichek is the man who started the academic competition, UIL, in Texas!]

Ila Loetscher:

This charismatic woman took the plight of Kemp's Ridley sea turtles seriously, but still managed to be quite playful. So playful, in fact, that audiences found her extremely charming. Her appeal helped call attention to the plight of the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle.

Loetscher worked in Mexico in 1965 at the animal's principal nesting site in Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas. There, turtle populations declined rapidly not only because boots made from the animal's skin brought in plenty of money, but the locals believed that eggs had special powers and would gather them the moment they were laid.

The organization she founded in 1977, Sea Turtles, Inc. still carries forth her vision. Today it organizes itself around a three-pronged approach that includes rescue/rehabilitation, education, and conservation assistance with all marine turtle species.

Walter Fondren III:

The March 2011 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine article by Larry Bozka titled "A Legion of Legacies" pays tribute to this great man. Fondren passed away in January 2010 at the age of 73. Read the story at:

Logo - TPW Foundation

Organizations that Do Wildlife Conservation in Texas

This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you're interested in knowing about some of the groups that help with conservation successes in Texas, check these out:

Dig in - Do More, Know More

  • For a fuller appreciation of where we've been read David J. Schmidlys Texas Natural History: A Century of Change (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press).
  • For a deeper understanding of endangered species, including how species become endangered and why, dig into this great Texas Parks and Wildlife Department site:
  • Wow! What a treat! This ENTIRE book, titled, Endangered and Threatened Animals of Texas, by author Linda Campbell and published by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is available online absolutely free at Since the book doesn't just keep to the success stories as we've done in this month's unit, you can learn about other Texas critters we're in danger of losing.