Kids of a different stripe fight to preserve tigers

Siberians: Elementary schoolers learn all they can about the endangered species, in the hopes that their work with a group will make a difference.

January 24, 2001|By Cathi Higgins | Cathi Higgins,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Every child at West Friendship Elementary School has a cat. Not a tabby, but a Siberian tiger - the world's largest cat.

When pupils learned from Principal Sandra McAmis at the beginning of the school year that these endangered tigers were losing their habitat and without intervention would become extinct, the pupils decided to adopt six Siberian tigers from the Save the Tiger Fund.

The school's mascot, Tuffy the Tiger, was also an inspiration. "We certainly are conservationists here at this school," McAmis said. "It is our mascot, and we think the work we do is valuable."

The Save the Tiger Fund is a project of the Hornocker Wildlife Institute in Idaho and is funded by Exxon Mobil Corp. Its goals include understanding how nature provides for the Siberian tiger, creating a conservation management plan and educating the public about the tiger's plight.

The children learned that poaching and the loss of habitat have reduced the number of tigers. "There are only [a few hundred] Siberian tigers left in the world," fifth-grader Ashley Link said. "It is sad to me - the tigers have a right to live as much as we do."

Each level, from kindergarten through fifth grade, has adopted a tiger. The children receive a picture and biography of their tiger, and educational materials.

They learn the tiger's name and receive newsletters to follow its progress year after year. In some cases, the adopted tiger "advances" annually with pupils, so a given group continues to sponsor the same tiger each year.

"Some of the tigers have had cubs, but some have died. We believe one tiger died when it fell through the ice," said Elsa Fawcett, a Gifted and Talented Program resource teacher. "Sadly, the children learn the realities of life - there's a beginning and an end."

The tiger lesson is an integral part of the children's day. In addition to pictures of Tuffy, the walls are covered with colorful paw prints, and the bulletin board features pictures of Yuri, Tonya, Misha, Ludmilla, Olga and her son Sosha - their adopted tigers.

Also, the grades are divided into tiger pods.

Third-graders are in the Bengal pod, first-graders in the Saber Tooth pod, and kindergartners in the Cubs pod.

A core group of children works on this project during the school year and provides updates on all of the tigers. Any child in second through fifth grade is eligible to volunteer.

The group meets with Fawcett and art teacher Cheryl Teter every week to develop ways to communicate information to other classmates. They are working on a puppet show for the younger grades, and are making tiger puppets and writing a script.

"If kids learn and see what is happening, maybe they will put an effort into helping," fourth-grader Chloe Meade said. She added that they are "educating people in a fun way."

Giving to others is an important part of the school program at West Friendship."`Philanthropic,'" Fawcett said, "is one of the words the children have to know."

Pupils also have made donations to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, American Heart Association and North Carolina flood victims.

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