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Looking for Miza: Lesson Plans


Keep Gorillas on the Map (Grades 6-8)

National Standards

  • Geography (The World in Spatial Terms; Places and Regions: Physical Systems; Human Systems; Environment and Society)
  • Language Arts (research; oral presentation)
  • Science (Life Science; Science in Personal and Social Perspectives)
  • Social Studies (Global Connections)


  • Students identify their preconceptions about mountain gorillas and correct any misconceptions.
  • Students learn characteristics of and threats to the mountain gorilla, as well as what some organizations are Students identify the similarities between mountain gorillas and humans.



Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent primates that live in close family groups caring for each other, eating, communicating, playing, and sleeping. In many ways, mountain gorillas are just like humans. In fact, mountain gorillas and humans share almost 98 percent of their genetic makeup. Sadly, these majestic creatures are endangered, or at risk of disappearing from the planet, and need our immediate help for their survival.

Only about 720 mountain gorillas remain today. About 380 of the world’s mountain gorillas live in Africa's Virunga (Vee-ROON-gah) Mountains, which border Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Of the three parks in this region, Virunga National Park is home to the largest mountain gorilla population, around 200. The rest of the world's mountain gorillas—roughly 340—live outside the Virunga Mountains in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

Several languages are spoken in these countries.
  • Rwanda has three official languages: Kinyarwanda, French, and English; Swahili is also used.
  • In the DRC the official language is French.
  • Uganda’s official language is English.

The mountain gorillas face many threats. Among the most severe is habitat loss. In 1994, conflict between Rwanda's two main ethnic groups erupted. The country's Hutu majority killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsi people during the genocide, or mass murder of a racial or cultural group. Rwandans and rebels seeking refuge fled into the DRC, bringing conflict to the gorillas’ home in Virunga National Park.

Up to one million people live in camps at the base of the mountains. Charcoal is their main source of fuel for cooking, boiling water to make it safe to drink, and for heat. People are cutting down the park's trees to make charcoal. In the process, they are destroying the forests where the gorillas live, and the plants they eat. If this continues, the forests—and the gorillas—will be gone. While rangers work to protect the gorillas and the land in the park, there are not enough of them to stop the charcoal production. Leaders of Virunga's illegal charcoal trade make millions of dollars from the business.
Other threats to the mountain gorillas include hunting and poaching. Poachers, who catch or kill animals illegally, try to catch mountain gorillas to sell to individuals or kill them to sell their parts. They also set traps to capture other animals, which can seriously hurt the mountain gorillas. Gorillas are susceptible to such human diseases as strep throat and measles. It is dangerous for the animals to be in close contact with humans for long periods of time.

Your students can help raise awareness and support the efforts of several organizations who are working toward solutions.
  • The Owen and Mzee Foundation, founded by Craig Hatkoff, engages students in philanthropic activities to protect animals and their environments. It has sponsored a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to save Africa's mountain gorillas and the first-ever Kids' Gorilla Summit. Hatkoff, his two young daughters, and ecologist Dr. Paula Kahumbu have written best-selling books based on true wildlife stories. The team's latest collaboration is Looking for Miza: The True Story of the Mountain Gorilla Family Who Rescued One of their Own.
  • WildlifeDirect, which is supported by the Owen & Mzee Foundation, is testing the use of portable gas stoves & biofuels as an alternative form of energy for charcoal cooking. Supplying people with this alternative could halt the charcoal production and help save the gorillas’ natural habitat, which is also home to numerous other species.
  • The Owen & Mzee Foundation is supporting is also collecting money to pay salaries for rangers, and to buy equipment to help the rangers better enforce hunting and poaching laws.
  • Park rangers limit the time they spend around the animals, and are continuing to enforce one-hour limits for tourists. Enforcing these policies reduces the chance that the gorillas will contract dangerous human diseases.
  • Officials in the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda have had peace talks and other joint economic cooperation initiatives in hopes to end the conflicts in the region.
  • See Lesson 3: Go Gorillas , for more examples of conservationists, organizations, and individuals working toward solutions.

1. List the following statements about mountain gorillas on the board and have students determine whether they are true or false:

Mountain gorillas are dangerous, threatening, loud animals. (false)
Mountain gorillas live only in the wild in Africa. (true)
Mountain gorillas thin fur helps them to stay cool. (true)
Mountain gorillas are not at all similar to humans. (false)
Mountain gorillas are endangered, and several organizations are working to find solutions to stop them from disappearing from the planet. (true)
American students can raise awareness and start projects to help protect mountain gorillas. (true)

2. Review the correct answers to the true and false statements with your students. Explain that mountain gorillas are often referred to as "gentle giants" and are very much like people. Find and share pictures, videos, and audio clips of the quiet, caring animals from the following Web sites: *
*Teachers: Not all content may be suitable for students. Please review content before sharing with students.

3. To explore the similarities between mountain gorillas and humans, create groups of 4–5 students. In groups, have students complete Venn diagrams that identify similarities and differences. Have students label one circle "mountain gorillas," the second circle "humans," and the section where the circles overlap "both." Have students visit the library to find information about mountain gorillas in books or search online starting with the Web sites listed above. Direct students to include information such as animal classification, diet, habitat, physical characteristics, life span, family life, ability to communicate, and genetic makeup. Click here for a sample Venn diagram.

4. Have each group present its diagram to the class. Students may have noted in their work that mountain gorillas are endangered. Discuss this point, noting that only about 720 mountain gorillas remain today. Refer to the background section to discuss the major threats to the mountain gorillas—habitat loss, conflict, hunting and poaching, and disease. Begin to discuss what some organizations are doing to find solutions to save the mountain gorillas. Explain that by studying the mountain gorillas and raising awareness of the threats they face, students will be helping to save them, too.

5. Download and distribute Student Activity 1: Keep Gorillas on the Map (PDF). Have students complete the activity to identify where mountain gorillas live, explore their natural habitat, and begin to think about why it is important and relevant to help save a species thousands of miles away.  Answer Key: 1. Central; 2. East; 3. Uganda, Rwanda, & Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); 4. Thin fur; 5. Answers will vary.

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