Lesson Plan

Hoofin' It! - Sheep Maneuvers

two sheep cross a river valley, one looking back
Sheep rarely stray from the mountains; when they do, they are vulnerable to wolves
NPS Photo

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Subject:
Biology: Animals, Wildlife Biology
Duration:
45 - 60 minutes
Setting:
indoors or outdoors
Keywords:
predator, prey, adaptations, population

Overview

The lesson plans in our 'Hoofin' It!' unit help students learn the basics of animal classification and what characteristics are common to mammals, mainly through studying Dall sheep.

Lesson six is a game exploring how predators and prey interact.

Objective(s)

Students will be able to define and demonstrate what "adaptation" means. Students will also be able to describe several unique adaptations for Dall sheep and discuss their importance to sheep survival.

Background

The "Hoofin' It!" unit explores the natural resource management of Dall sheep in the national parks of northwest Alaska. Students will learn about Dall sheep, where they live, how they have adapted to their environment, and how wildlife biologists study them to understand how to protect their populations within national parklands. Links to other lessons in the unit can be found at page bottom.

Dall sheep are a wild sheep that lives on steep mountain slopes across the Alaska. The sheep are an integral part of the natural ecosystem, and they are prized by subsistence and recreational hunters. In the early 1990s, the Dall sheep population in the Baird Mountains of Noatak National Preserve declined dramatically, losing half its population in two years. Wildlife managers closed the sheep hunting season for seven years to allow the population to grow again.

Why did the population drop so suddenly? What are the natural and human factors that affect the Dall sheep population? In the spring of 2000, Brad Shults, a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service, began a research project to learn more about Dall sheep population dynamics. Shults hopes to better understand sheep by studying the number of lambs that are born, how long sheep live, what are the most common causes of death, where do they go from season to season, and just how many sheep are there?

Procedure

Note: This activity is a highly physically active. It can be done outdoors or in the gym. The following procedures are based on a group size of 33 students. Adjust group sizes proportionally.

Activity Set-Up
  1. Divide the group of students into four groups, consisting of wolves, rams, ewes, and lambs. For a group of 33 students the ratio is: (3) wolves, (6) rams, (12) ewes, and (12) lambs.
  2. Provide each lamb with a long flag or ribbon. Affix the flag to lamb’s body in a way that it can be removed by a wolf (e.g., in the back-pocket).
  3. Provide each wolf with a long flag but of a different color than the lambs. Affix the flag to the wolf’s body in a way that it can be removed.
  4. Designate that one small corner of the gym or field is the mountain “safety” zone for sheep. All other areas are open for wolves and sheep.

Activity 

The idea behind this game is to simulate sheep and wolf behaviors. Sheep are herbivores and often move to valleys or lower hillsides to forage or get water. Ewes and lambs are always together in a group whereas rams are often near or in their own groups. When sheep are attacked by wolves, they almost always run for the highest point on a mountain side to view predators chase. Wolves will go pretty high on a ridge but can’t get to the steeper cliffs that sheep can. Wolves often hunt in packs. Begin the activity with the rams, ewes, and lambs grazing peacefully and the wolves out of sight of the herd.

Ewes: As soon as grazing begins, the ewes should choose a lead ewe to watch for predators. The ewes can pick a secret signal to communicate to the rest of the herd that predators are approaching. When predators are near, all the ewes gather their lambs and they sprint to the mountain “safety” zone with the lambs. The main goal of the ewes are to protect the lambs from the wolves. Ewes can also face off a wolf by blocking the wolf from reaching the lamb but cannot touch the wolf with their hands or feet. Ewes that have lost their lambs can must run to the mountain for safety.

Lambs: Lambs are totally dependent on the ewes. Each lamb is to hold onto a ewe with both hands and only follow the ewe’s lead. Lambs cannot influence the ewe’s movement. Lambs have fallen prey to wolves when their “flag” is removed from their pocket. Once a lamb has “died”, they can move off to one side but be able to watch the remainder of the activity. If the lamb and ewe make it to the mountain, they stay there until the round is completed.

Rams: Rams should also pick their own signal for approaching predators. Since Rams are often in separate groups they shouldn’t be with the ewes and lambs during the beginning. Rams behave in several ways when predators appear. They can group together, put their heads down and face wolves or they group up with the ewes and lambs and head towards higher ground. The main idea for the rams is to distract and/or divert the wolves from the lambs and ewe groups. Rams have successfully diverted a wolf when they get their “flag” from the back-pocket. When a wolf gets diverted they are dropped from the pack and step off to the side, but able to watch the remainder of the activity. Once a ram has reached the mountain, they are also safe but can not assist other ewes and lambs.

Wolves: Wolves begin the activity out of sight of the herd. They try to get as close to as possible without being detected. Wolves typically work as a unit, so they can attempt surprising the herd in order to kill a lamb or injured sheep. The wolves can move in any direction, any time but can’t climb steep mountains. They can use any maneuver (except pushing or shoving) to get to the lamb. A lamb is killed when the wolf removes the “flag”. A wolf is out of the activity if a ram removes its “flag”.

Playing the Game

Each round represents one year. A round is over when one of the following happens:

All the wolves are killed.
All the lambs are killed.
All the remaining sheep are on the mountain.

The most common outcome of each round is that a few lambs have been killed and the remaining sheep make it up to the safety zone because the wolves stopped to eat the sheep they killed.

At the end of the round (year), tally the number of surviving rams, ewes, and lambs. Sheep that were killed will become wolves and wolves that were killed become lambs in the next round. Continue the activity for five or more "years."

When the activity is over, have the students discuss what happened in terms of animal adaptations, predator/prey relationships, and the wolf and sheep behaviors. Ask questions such as: What would happen if the rams successfully diverted the wolves? What would happen if the wolves were always successful in their hunt?

Have the students graph the number of sheep that survived year to year.

Adaptation

This game can be enhanced by adding tokens or small cubes as forage for the sheep. The area can be divided into the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Spread the tokens or cubes around the room in all the seasons. Start the activity in spring. When you call out the name of the season, the sheep move to that range. The sheep will be feeding on the cubes or tokens (picking up as many as they can) while watching out for the wolves. For a sheep to survive a year, they must have collected at least five tokens, and in more than one season.

Suggested Assessment

 Have students find pictures of other Alaska animals and discuss whether camouflage is part of the animals adaptation or not. Give the student’s different pictures of habitat from around the world. Have the student’s draw or describe the type of animals that might live in that habitat based on what they know about animal adaptations. How do the animals adapt for different seasons?



Additional Resources

The "Hoofin' It!" unit explores the natural resource management of Dall sheep in the national parks of northwest Alaska. Students will learn about Dall sheep, where they live, how they have adapted to their environment, and how wildlife biologists study them to understand how to protect their populations within national parklands.

This unit is designed for grades K-12. Many of the lesson plans are appropriate for younger grades, although the later part of the unit are geared towards middle and high school. A class needn't do every lesson in the unit to gain insights into wildlife management - each can be approached as a stand-alone lesson on a particular biology-related topic.

Lesson 1
Hoofin' It! - What Do You Know?

(Understanding taxonomy; k - 12th grade)
Lesson 2
Hoofin' It! - Vertebrate Grab Game

(Exploring types of vertebrates; 3rd - 6th grade) 
Lesson 3
Hoofin' It! Vertebrate Mysteries

(A vertebrate matching game; 8th - 12th grade)
Lesson 4
Hoofin' It! Special Parts

(Animal adaptations; k - 12th grade)
Lesson 5
Hoofin' It! Hard to See?

(Camoflague; k - 8th grade)
Lesson 6
Hoofin' It! - Sheep Maneuvers

(A predator-prey game; k - 12th grade)
Lesson 7
Hoofin' It - Year of the Sheep

(Life cycle of a Dall sheep; 3rd - 12th grade)
Lesson 8
Hoofin' It! - Who's Got My Habitat?

(Habitat and wildlife populations; 3rd - 12th grade)
Lesson 9
Hoofin' It! - Habitat Grid

(Exploring wildlife habitat; k - 3rd grade)
Lesson 10
Hoofin' It! - Through the Seasons

(A game looking at seasonal impacts on wildlife; 2nd - 11th grade)
Lesson 11
Hoofin' It! - Population Art

(Intro to counting wildlife populations; k - 2nd grade
Lesson 12
Hoofin' It! - Population Calculation

(Graphing and analyzing sheep population data; 6th - 10th grade)
Lesson 13
Hoofin' It! - Scavenger Hunt

(A game connecting students to wildlife; k - 6th grade)
Lesson 14
Hoofin' It! - Field Sampling

(How scientists count wildlife populations; k - 12th grade)
Lesson 15
Hoofin' It! The Bean Counters: Mark-Recapture

(Learning to use the mark-recapture method for population surveys; 5th - 12th grade)