California condors

Scientific Literature

Learning to read scientific literature is an important and useful skill. These lessons were developed by the San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research for use in conjunction with Exploring Conservation Science  field trips to the Institute facilities and the adjacent Safari Park. All of these lesson plans are related to research being done by San Diego Zoo Global scientists.

Teachers may use these lesson plans and supplied reading materials in coordination with lessons about the conservation issues presented. If the reading is to be done independently, or without a more comprehensive lesson on the scientific topic, students reading at grade level will find the post-lesson reading selections very challenging, and it is fine to skip them. 

There are five lessons provided, with middle school and high school options for each:

Polar Bear Bioacoustics and Energetics

Polar bears

Middle School

In the pre-lesson reading, we follow a trip to Arctic Norway to check on a polar bear den site as part of a postdoctoral project with San Diego Zoo Global. In the post-lesson article, you will learn how zoos partner with other organizations to address issues facing wild polar bears.

Polar bear with two cubs

High school

The pre-lesson reading describes how climate change is affecting polar bears' energy needs. The two post-lesson articles describe research to measure polar bear activity in the wild, and how their high-energy, high-fat lifestyle is challenged by changing conditions.

Life in a Biodiversity Hotspot

kangaroo rat


The Stephens' kangaroo rat is described to visitors at an Earth Day event in the pre-lesson reading. The post-lesson reading describes freezing rare plant seeds in a seed bank.

kangaroo rat


The pre-lesson reading is about the development of biodiversity hotspots over two decades. The post-lesson reading evaluates the California gnatcatcher as an umbrella species for the Southern California sage scrub habitat.

Desert Tortoise Spatial Ecology

desert tortoise crossing sign


In the pre-lesson reading, scientists have to get creative to protect juvenile desert tortoises from predators. The post-lesson article describes the challenges of managing desert tortoises in their native habitat range—from translocation, to protection from cars, to handling potentially fatal viruses. 

desert tortoises


The pre-lesson journal reading is about how upper respiratory disease impacts the behavior of Mojave desert tortoises. The post-lesson reading examines translocation of desert tortoises as a conservation tool.

California Condor Genetics

California condor face close up


In the pre-lesson blog post, a wildlife care specialist at the Safari Park describes the progress of California condor breeding in our care in 2018. In the post-lesson reading, a scientist describes her work maintaining the Frozen Zoo, a collection of samples from over 400 species.

California condor in flight


In the pre-lesson reading, you'll learn about the use of voluntary lead reduction in the California condor's wild range to reduce chances of lead poisoning of wild condors. In the post-lesson reading, scientists describe using DNA to determine the sex of animals whose sex cannot be easily determined by outside visible characteristics.

African Elephant Reproductive Endocrinology

Two African elephant calves


The pre-lesson readings for this lesson discuss studying wild animal behavior to reduce human-animal conflict. The post-lesson article examines elephant vocal communication.

African Elephant


The pre-lesson reading studies how African elephants can use scent cues to keep track of the locations of other elephants in their social group. The post-lesson article studies traits of male elephants that lead to breeding success.

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