Photo: A tiger licking one of her cubs

A Bengal tiger called Sita gives her cubs an early morning bath in India’s Bandhavgarh National Park.

Photograph by Michael Nichols

Cats of all sizes—ranging from playful family pets to powerful tigers in the wild—are among the most familiar of all of Earth’s animals. Fossil evidence suggests that ancestors of today’s cats may date back as much as 30 million years in Europe and 16 million years in the Americas.

Cats living in the wild, especially big cats such as tigers, lions, cheetahs, leopards, cougars (pumas), and jaguars are increasingly at risk of extinction because of pressure from ever-expanding human populations. Students can help protect these beautiful animals by researching and learning about where and how these animals live and what threats put them at risk.

Conduct an Investigation

Divide the class into six groups and assign each group one of the following types of big cats: tigers, lions, cheetahs, leopards, cougars (pumas), or jaguars.

Instruct each group to research the following information about its assigned big cat.

i. Description of the cat
ii. Range/natural habitat
iii. Life cycle/habits
iv. Threats v. Conservation efforts

The following web sites will be helpful:

National Geographic Big Cats Initiative
Look at the lower half of the page and see "More Big Cats." Select the desired animal to see population, range, and other facts.

San Diego Zoo
Under the heading "cats," select the desired species to locate range maps, facts & figures, and general information.

ARKive
Use the "search" option to locate information on the desired cat species.

Big Cats Online
Select continent; then select desired species.

Present Research Findings

Provide each group with poster board, colored pencils or markers, and a blank map for the range area of its assigned cat. Maps can be downloaded from Expeditions [select the desired continent, customize to “basic”, print as pdf]

Guide students to organize their research findings, including photos and a range map, to present what they have learned about their assigned cat. Remind them to include correct documentation for all sources used.

Extend the Activity

Have students identify other animals that are endangered and learn more about these animals at risk.

See World Wildlife Fund

About the National Geographic Bee

Each year thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society. The contest is designed to inspire students to be curious about the world. Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging competition.

Registration for the 2015 National Geographic Bee has ended. Schools can register for the next competition on August 18, 2015. Early bird registration starts at $100 per school. Vouchers will be available for qualifying schools. Sign up here to receive a reminder email that early bird registration is starting.

Utah State Winner

Gauri Garg, Utah State Bee Champion, was asked to select one superpower, and one global and community issue to solve. She’d use her special powers to end pollution by converting pollutants and educating the public about hazardous vehicle emissions.

How to Help

  • Photo: Geo Bee Winners

    Fund a School

    Donations help fund schools to participate in the National Geographic Bee.

Student Activities

Teachers can use these activities in the classroom to prepare students for the bee!

  • Photo: Map of the world showing areas of freshwater

    Geo-Scavenger Hunt

    Simply memorizing terms and place locations can be tedious and even boring. One solution is to make the task fun with an atlas-based scavenger game.

  • Photo: Map of languages

    Exploring Diffusion

    The movement of people, goods, or ideas from one place to another is a process known as diffusion, which plays an important role in shaping the characteristics of where we live.

  • Photo: Infared satellite image of hurricane Rita

    Tracking Violent Storms

    Springtime brings the possibility of extreme weather, including violent thunderstorms and tornadoes.

See More From the Study Corner »