India is a country in South Asia with a rich cultural and natural heritage. It’s the seventh largest in the world, approximately 3.25 million sq.km) and is known for its diverse range of climates and landscapes from the Himalaya in the north to the spice fields and biodiverse-rich tropical forests in the south. It’s also home to iconic, yet endangered wildlife like the Asian elephant, tiger, and leopard. India’s population of 1.3 billion is expected to grow by 16 percent by 2030, and finding the balance between the needs of people and the rest of the environment will continue to be a challenge. Use this set of ideas to engage your classroom in learning about biodiversity and conservation challenges and efforts in India.
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Exploring the Geography of India
Search for India in Google Earth and fly to this country. India is located in a geographically rich region of the world with many neighboring countries. Have students identify the number of countries that India shares a border with (the answer is six). This one-page map of India can further support students to identify the borders. Using the info cards that pop up on the top right of the screen, have students click Points of Interest in India and read about some of the places featured. Have students choose one to investigate further. They can click on the round blue icon on the info card to fly to this place and then click the text to pull up a page with more information. Students can make a list of five of the most interesting things they learned about the destination.
Population Density in India
As of 2017, India is the second most populated country in the world, but it is not the second largest by area. In fact, it is the seventh largest country on Earth in terms of size. Have your students download this KMZ file of population density data from NASA and then open it in Google Earth to explore population density in India. Ask students to make geographic observations of where people live in India: What patterns can they observe (e.g., people seem to be concentrated on the coast and also near the borders with Nepal and Bangladesh)? Have students hypothesize why people live where they do: What factors affect where people live? Students can turn off the population density data to explore the landscape in Google Earth to see what other geographic factors they can identify. Go further with the topic of population density using one of these two activities or this encyclopedia entry on density.
Activity: Calculating Population Density
Activity: Population Density in the United States
Exploring Protected Areas From the Air
Have students read the Google Earth Voyager story about National Geographic Explorer Krithi Karanth’s work in India. Then have students visit Anshi National Park in Google Earth, one of the locations where Krithi works.
Since one of the issues facing wildlife in the park is conflict with humans, have your students become investigators to study what signs of human settlement they can identify from the air. Students should look for signs of habitations such as houses and other structures, infrastructure such as roads or fences, and signs of farming; often you can identify crops planted in rows, or rectangular or polygonal shapes that are agricultural fields. Students can take screenshots of these to keep a catalog of examples.
Then lead a discussion with students to build on their findings. Ask: What issues might wildlife face when they come into contact with human settlements? What issues might humans face from wildlife living in the park? What are some possible ways of dealing with these issues that can work for humans and wildlife? You can go further by doing this activity on protecting wildlife or having students read this profile on Krithi’s work.
Have students download this KMZ file (IUCN Red List) that shows the range of where leopards can be found and open it in Google Earth. You can have students read the encyclopedia entry on species range for more background. Then have students download this KMZ file of protected areas in India and open it in Google Earth. Ask them to compare the two map layers to see where the protected areas and leopard ranges intersect. Lead a class discussion about some of the issues humans and leopards might face, based on what students can learn from the maps. Then share this article and photo with students of a leopard at night in a neighborhood in Mumbai, India. Students can go to the place mentioned in the article (Aarey Milk Colony) to explore it more. To go further with learning about issues big cat species face, you can use the activity Conservation and Big Cats.
Biodiversity Hot Spots
Have your students read this encyclopedia entry on biodiversity for background on biodiversity hot spots. Lead a discussion about the term “endemic species.” Ask: Where do you think you would find a lot of endemic species? In what types of environments? Why do you think studying endemic species is important? India includes parts of three areas that scientists consider to be biodiversity hot spots: the Western Ghats mountain range, the Himalaya mountain range, and the Indo-Burma region. Have students download this KMZ file of biodiversity hot spots around the world. Students should open the file in Google Earth and locate the three biodiversity hot spots in India. Students can write geographic descriptions of these areas. Then assign groups of students to different continents to look at other biodiversity hot spots around the world. Have the groups make geographic observations of what they see (for example, many biodiversity hot spots are on islands or include mountain ranges) and then come together as a class to compare.
Snow leopards are an endangered species found only in the mountains of Central Asia, including parts of northwestern India. Have students read background information on snow leopards and write a geographic question. Then download this KMZ file (IUCN Red List) that shows the geographic range of where they live. Students should open the file in Google Earth and observe what types of landscapes they live in and in which countries. Based on what students learn about the snow leopard habitat, lead a discussion on the types of adaptations that snow leopards have developed that make them uniquely fit for those habitats. Students should also revisit and answer the geographic question they developed. Students can read this encyclopedia entry on adaptation for more background on this topic. Then go further with adaptation with these activities: Arctic Adaptations, Adaptations: Changes Through Time.