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Looking for Miza: Lesson Plans


Save the Gorillas (Grades 3-5)


  •  Language Arts (writing, reading, listening and speaking)
  •  Life Skills (Thinking and Reasoning; Working with Others; Self Regulation)
  •  Science (Life Science; Science in Personal and Social Perspectives; History and Nature of Science)


  •  Students review why the mountain gorilla is endangered, and the importance of saving the species from extinction.
  •  Students learn that, like many people of all ages who are working to save the mountain gorillas, they, too, can create and/or support solutions that protect the animals, their environment, and the people around them.
  •  Students create action plans to organize their projects.
  •  Students begin service-learning projects to save the mountain gorilla.



The most serious threats facing the roughly 720 remaining mountain gorillas are habitat loss, hunting and poaching, disease, and war. Saving the mountain gorilla and its environment does much more than preserve this human-like animal for generations to come—it helps to preserve Earth’s biodiversity and to maintain the functions of ecosystems.

You and your students can start a service-learning project to save the mountain gorilla and contribute to the wellness of the planet through the Owen and Mzee Foundation’s Save the Gorillas Campaign.

The goal of the Owen and Mzee Foundation is to "encourage children to participate in philanthropic activities through direct engagement." The Foundation has created the Save the Gorillas Campaign, and has funded a Clinton Global Initiative to protect the mountain gorillas. To save the gorillas' habitat from destruction due to charcoal production, the group is supporting efforts to test a possible solution: the use of portable gas stoves as alternative fuel sources for people in the area. Your students’ projects can help fund this organization's conservation projects and other efforts.Philanthropy involves much more than simply donating money. Its Greek origin means "love of fellow humans" and the word can be defined as "the giving of one's time, talent, or treasure for the sake of another or for the common good." Supporting philanthropic efforts can empower children as they see how they can make a difference.

A service-learning project to raise awareness of the mountain gorilla and fund solutions to save it should follow four basic steps:

  1. Educate students about the issue.
  2. Create an action plan.
  3. Implement the plan.
  4. Reflect on the work and celebrate success.

As your students work to save the mountain gorilla, they will be following the tradition of a long line of conservationists who devoted much time to researching and raising awareness about the majestic species:

  • In 1959, George Schaller traveled to what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo to study mountain gorillas in the wild. He is considered the first scientist to have done this. He studied various other endangered animals, including the giant panda and the antelope, and wrote several books based on his research.
  • Schaller's work led Dian Fossey to begin studying mountain gorillas in the wild in 1963. She researched them for twenty-two years until she was found murdered at her campsite. Fossey's work greatly contributed to the protection of the mountain gorilla. Her organization, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, continues efforts to save the species.
  • Richard Leakey, a world-renowned paleontologist and conservationist, has made significant contributions to the study of human evolution. His parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, also were famous scientists who studied great apes. In 2004, Leakey created an organization called WildlifeDirect. Through its Web site, WildlifeDirect gives rangers in the field opportunities to report on what is happening to endangered animals, and seeks donations from people around the world to support solutions.
  • Jane Goodall is a conservationist and primatologist best known for her studies of chimpanzees. Her desire to work with African wildlife began in her childhood. In 1957, she worked as an assistant to Louis Leakey and studied chimpanzees for forty years after. Goodall has written several children's books about wildlife and founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation.


1. Begin by showing the students "Save the Mountain Gorillas," a YouTube video that was created by Canadian fifth graders, at . Note that this video focuses on a specific threat to the mountain gorillas that you have likely not discussed—the illegal and irresponsible mining of coltan, a mineral used to make cell phones. Explain that illegally mining coltan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) causes much environmental damage and contributes to one of the main threats facing the remaining gorillas—habitat loss—just as illegal charcoal production does. Have students review other threats to the mountain gorillas and their habitat, and why protecting the species benefits the world.

2. Ask: How does this video work toward a solution to save the mountain gorillas? Who do you think created the video? Share that fifth graders in Canada created the video as part of their campaign to collect 500 old cell phones from teachers and students at their school. The old cell phones can be used to create new ones, reducing the need for the DRC’s coltan, thus helping to preserve the gorillas’ environment. Emphasize to students that just as these fifth graders are making a difference, they can, too.

3. Explain to students the solution that WildlifeDirect and the Owen and Mzee Foundation support—providing people living near Africa’s mountain gorillas with portable gas stoves so they will no longer need to destroy the forests to make charcoal for fuel. Challenge students: What can we do to raise awareness of the problems facing mountain gorillas and raise money needed for the solutions? (Ideas may include holding a school-wide gorilla assembly to present pictures and facts; hosting a trivia night to share important facts about the mountain gorillas with the community; creating an art exhibit with student paintings and sculptures of gorillas and their environment; encouraging people to sign the gorilla pledge at ; creating a video, song, or poem; and other events to raise money to support solutions.)

4. Share with students that many other people—including kids—are currently working to save the species from extinction. Discuss the following:

Haley Stern, an 11-year-old from Burlington, Vermont, is called "Gorilla Girl." She fell in love with gorillas after seeing them at the Bronx Zoo in New York. When she learned they were endangered, she took action. She adopted a three-year-old gorilla through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and organized a fundraiser in May. She started her own Web site,, and introduced it at a meeting in May. The conservationist Jane Goodall was at the event. Have students visit Haley’s Web site to see how this 11-year-old is making a difference, and to convince them that they can, too. As a first grader in Edwardsville, Illinois, Severine Rebmann became fascinated with mountain gorillas after watching a PBS program about them. After she read about the need to protect them on the back of a cereal box, she decided to get involved. She hosted a fundraising skate party. Nature’s Path, an organic food company, donated food and snack bars.      

Frank M. Keesling started the Denver Gorilla Run four years ago. He did it to raise money for his mother’s organization, the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund. (Keesling’s mother was inspired by Dian Fossey.) People of all ages run, walk, skate, or bike the 5.6K (3.5 mile) course dressed in gorilla suits that people receive when they enter the race. It costs adults $150 to enter, and kids, $75. Participants are also asked to collect pledges from supporters. All money raised is used to pay for projects that help the endangered mountain gorillas and their human neighbors. This year’s run will be held in Denver on October 25.

5. Create student groups. Distribute Student Activity 3: Save the Gorillas! (PDF). Have student groups complete the organizer with ideas for a class or school campaign to help save the gorillas.  

6. When students have finished, have each group share its ideas with the class. Have your class vote to start three projects to help save the gorillas. Or, you may decide to get the whole school involved in one project. Communicate the urgency to start now to save the treasured species and protect the planet.  

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