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Which Elephant Population Would You Protect?


Andrea M.-K. Bierema
Center for Integrative Studies in General Science, Department of Integrative Biology
Michigan State University


This case study has students analyze real population and climate data to address a problem in conservation. Many elephant populations exist in Africa, but if a conservation group had funding to supply a grant to just one population, which one should it be? This activity uses a jig-saw approach in which students first assume the role of a conservation grant applicant, using data sheets (examples included in the teaching notes) and performing additional research about their assigned country to determine the elephant population for which they will advocate. Students then change roles and adopt the viewpoint of a conservation grant program representative who must determine which country should receive the grant. This activity was originally designed for a non-majors environmental science course and a science majors introductory organismal biology course. It is also suitable for use at the high school level.


  • Graph a natural population growth curve.
  • Explain if a natural population fits an exponential model, logistic model, or neither.
  • Estimate a natural population's carrying capacity.
  • Predict density dependent and independent factors that regulate a population.
  • Analyze climate data.
  • Use data to make informed conservation decisions.
  • Develop a visually-appealing and persuasive infographic.


Africa; conservation; elephants; infographic; population ecology; population growth; carrying capacity; density independent regulation; density dependent regulation

Topical Areas

Policy issues, Social issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Jig-Saw, Role-Play



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Climatology / Meteorology  |   Communication Science  |   Ecology  |   Environmental Science  |   Wildlife Management  |   Zoology  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Supplemental Materials

Below is a customized set of instructions by the author for teaching the case online using a discussion board.

  elephant_protection_supplemental.docx (~20 KB)

Answer Key

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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • The Great Elephant Census
    This video describes the work of scientists who conducted the first census of African savanna elephants in over 40 years. Running time: 8:23 min. Produced by HHMI Biointeractive, 2017.