Motorists in the Abruzzo region of Italy may soon be greeted by the surreal sight of bears leisurely crossing roads on custom-built bridges designed to keep them safe.
The Marsican brown bear is perilously close to extinction, with only about 50 left in the wild, according to officials at the National Park of Abruzzo. The number is being further reduced by traffic accidents, with bears being hit as they try to cross the busy A24 road, which is close to the park. The latest victim, a four-year-old male, is believed to have been struck while seeking either a new territory or a mate.
Park officials have now been given permission to build the bears a private bridge above the main road, or a tunnel beneath it. Giuseppe Rossi, head of the 130,000-hectare park, told UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph that the bears "need space and peace". He plans to build up to 10 additional tunnels under the roads that run through the park, and is currently seeking funding.
It is not the first time that road crossings have been built specifically for animals. In Europe, bridges for deer and badgers have been in existence for more than half a century. In Kenya, an elephant underpass was built after roads that divided elephant populations caused the animals to stray in front of cars, presenting as much of a danger to those behind the wheel as to the elephants themselves.
And in Taiwan, a whole section of road has been known to close to allow migrating purple milkweed butterflies to cross safely from their southern home to their northern breeding grounds. Ultraviolet light is used to guide the butterflies across areas where cars are still permitted.
Other animal crossings include an "otter tunnel" in England and a "toad tunnel" in Wales.
Why not use these examples to prompt classroom discussion? You could look at general road safety, animal conservation and how and where different animals live. You might inspire one or two future engineers with a lesson on how bridges and tunnels are constructed. Ask students to consider ways in which we can help animals and learn to live harmoniously with them.
One animal that has received no help in crossing roads is the chicken, which, considering the oft-quoted joke, seems an oversight. Why not get children to devise their own method for a safe poultry passage?
Do animals have the right to live in safety, as humans do? Is it important to help and protect them?
Apart from the dangers of crossing a busy road, what other threats might wild animals face?
If you woke up tomorrow and no wild animals were left, how would you feel? Would the world be different?
If you could bring an extinct species back to life, what would it be and why?
The bear necessities
From Gentle Ben to the loyal Baloo, the affable Winnie-the-Pooh and the charming Paddington, the bear has long been a mainstay of children's literature.
What these bears have in common is their kind and gentle nature. They tend to be vegetarian, and would rather eat honey or marmalade sandwiches than humans. Some are even partial to a teddy bears' picnic. None has ever been known to attack people.
Storybook bears often form friendships with children. They are a helpful and humorous kind of bear, but how do they compare with the real thing?
Ask your students to think of as many words as possible to describe fictional bears and real ones. What are the differences? Why are the bears we read about in stories so friendly and lovable? Would we still care for them if they were dangerous and scary?
Another activity could focus on the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Read the tale as a class and encourage your students to practise their listening, language and communication skills. The children could rewrite the story in their own words or perform a role play. You could even get them to eat some porridge.
Moles are industrious creatures. One mole can create 20m of intricate subterranean tunnels a day, burrowing beneath woodland, grassland and farmland, and leaving behind their characteristic mounds of earth.
But how do they navigate underground, and how do they know where to excavate? What measurements might moles use? Or do they work on instinct?
Turn your students into "moles" for a lesson. Teach them about animal structures, as well as shape, space, positions and directions. Make the lesson as practical as you like.
Alternatively try a maze activity from TESiboard (bit.lyMoleMaze). Put the children into pairs and set them the task of moving a mole around a maze by working out the direction and distance required. How will they sequence their moves? Choose from three levels to support differentiation. Challenge the students to use as few steps as possible - just like an efficient, hard-working mole.
Introduce students to different species and the threats they face in an activity from TES Connect partner RSPB. bit.lyVoteforNature
Have fun with TES Connect partner Sesame Street's video of the Three Bears. bit.lySesameStreetBears
Develop children's counting skills using bevevans22's Little Bears Collection number cards. bit.lyLittleBearsCollection
Go on an interactive bear hunt, focusing on literacy, rhythm and repetition, in a lesson shared by meganhughes. bit.lyBearHuntPPT
A perilous journey
Every year, in one of the most impressive spectacles on Earth, millions of wildebeest embark on a 500-mile trek from the Serengeti plains of Tanzania to Kenya's Masai Mara in search of grassy pastures and safe breeding grounds. It is a long and hazardous journey.
But the wildebeest migration is not only imperilled by predators. In the past 40 years, it is humans who have had the greatest negative impact, causing the number of wildebeest to fall by 90 per cent in some areas. A growing population and the sprawl of roads, houses and developments from Kenyan capital Nairobi, spreading south towards the Masai Mara, have led to more fences. This has restricted the animals' movements.
Ask your students to consider the impact that human structures can have on the lives of animals. As a starting point, trace the journey of the wildebeest and see how it has altered over time. Then follow the migration paths of three animal families with a video from TES Connect partner Film Education (bit.lyAnimalFilm). Watch the polar bear and her cubs, the humpback whale and her calf and the elephant and her herd undertake their quests for safety and survival.
What effects have humans had on the natural habitats of the animals in the film? How would your students change this?
Follow the adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh with a story map from sarahlouiseharris. bit.lyWinnieStoryMap
Find out about the habitats and migration patterns of African animals with a PowerPoint from claudz. bit.lyAfricanAnimals
Check out TES Resource Team's photo pack on animal habitats. bit.lyHabitatsPhotoPack
Guess the habitats of animals that live in your school area, in an activity from collaborative. bit.lySchoolAnimalHunt
Find out what it means to be endangered, and how species become so, in ARKive's lesson. bit.lyEndangeredActivity.