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On safari

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By Jane Bowerconsultant to primary schools in art, drama dance and literacy

Binoculars at the ready – it’s time to head for the plains and prepare for a cross-curricular feast of animal activities


Watching animals in their natural habitats is the best way to learn about how they behave and interact with others. Unfortunately, going on an African safari is too expensive to be a reality for most of us and is certainly beyond the realms of the average school trip! Closer to home, we can get a good impression of how animals live in the wild by visiting safari parks, such as West Midlands and Knowsley. We can also gain valuable insights from watching nature programmes and documentaries that have brought the wonder and excitement of going on safari into the safety and comfort of our sitting rooms.

The following drama, art and literacy activities are designed to help you to teach children about the lives of African animals by creating a safari park in your very own classroom! They will make children aware of the range of work and responsibilities involved in the running of a safari park – either in the UK or abroad – and the closely interwoven lives of the animals that inhabit it.

All of the activities are suitable for children aged 7-11 and can lead, if you wish, to a final ‘virtual safari’ in your classroom, hall or around your school, through which children can be guided. The accompanying activity sheet resources will add realism to the role-play activities. There is also a letter from an overland trek driver which can be used as a starting point for writing, as suggested in the literacy activity ‘George’s letter’ (see below).


1. Park life

Discuss with the children what we mean by the word ‘safari’. If any of them are lucky enough to have been on an African safari, encourage them to share their experiences with the rest of the class. If not, talk about UK safari parks that the children may have visited. What animals did they see? How do they remember feeling as they drove around?

Discuss the layout, features and people involved in running a safari park. (The April ‘07 issue of Junior Ed PLUS contains a print poster of West Midlands Safari Park.)

For this drama activity, the children will work in six groups, with a maximum of five in each group. Give each group a copy of one of the six role cards - Activity sheets ‘On safari! Character cards’ - and help them to read and discuss their role.

Encourage each group to imagine their life in their role, using the map to help them picture where they would be on a typical day. Ask the children to show how they would carry out their daily tasks, at this stage working only with their own group.

Now call a staff meeting and ask the groups to introduce themselves and their role to the other groups, outlining their tasks and responsibilities. Then announce that this is a most important year (perhaps because the park is going for a special award, or is threatened with closure) and the staff team must work more diligently than ever. Ask the children to carry out further tasks, this time networking with other groups.

Return to the meeting, and invite each group to share a problem that they have had. (Keep these believable – not a wildebeest charging through the café! The aim is to appreciate the amount of work it takes to run such a huge establishment.) The other groups can offer ways in which these problems could be solved.

To extend the activity, children can imagine what it must be like to work in an African safari park. Write a class list of the similarities and differences between the two types of park. Many of the roles will be similar, but there may be additional people, such as accommodation staff, who are responsible for the tents and lodges where the guests stay, or balloon guides who take visitors on breathtaking hot-air balloon flights across the park. Where would the children prefer to work?

2. A guided tour

This is an exciting and memorable way to teach children about African animals. You take on the role of a safari guide and the class become tourists on safari – in either an African or a UK safari park. (For tips, see the ‘Drivers’ section of Activity sheet 1, ‘On safari!: Character cards 1’.) This would actually be conducted in a vehicle, but for ease of movement you can say that this is a safe area to get out and observe. Emphasise the need for silence and create the right atmosphere with a suitable soundtrack of outdoor sounds or quiet, calm music.

Give the children copies of Activity sheet 3, ‘The Big Five’ (perhaps on a clipboard), introduce the tour by saying Sawubona, which means ‘Greetings’ and explain the Big Five. The tour then begins, with you as the guide, feeding in any relevant information and answering children’s questions. You are, of course, an expert at spotting animals and pointing them out. (One man who went on safari complained to his African guide that he couldn’t see anything when staring into the bush. The guide went on to point out seventeen giraffes!) When the tour ends, say Ube nohambo oluhle which means ‘Have a safe journey.’


3. At the waterhole

Decide on an area of the workspace that will be designated as the waterhole. Each pair of children represents one of the animals on Activity sheet 3, ‘The Big Five’ (and any others that you wish to include) and must be clearly labelled with the animal’s name. The aim is for each pair to work out when it would be safest for them to go to the waterhole without being attacked by any other creatures. Each pair must visit the waterhole only once. Explain to the children that this is what real creatures living in the wild have to work out each day!

You can try this activity in two ways – either as an open discussion with everyone deciding the ‘pecking order’, or involving movement, with each pair venturing forth when they feel it is safe. If you decide on the latter, aim for realism – encourage children to look up and check between drinks, or have some animals acting as group lookouts while others drink. Animals will also read the ‘giz’, or manner, of other creatures – if they are relaxed with a low belly, they have recently eaten and so are unlikely to attack. Establish a signal, such as shouting ‘Unsafe!’, rather than waiting for fights to break out between the animals!

If the number of creatures seems too high, start with five groups to represent the Big Five, and then gradually increase the number of creatures represented.

4. Taking turns

For this activity, the class need to imagine that a lion in an African safari park has killed a wildebeest. Ask the children to draw pictures of the creatures mentioned below (add more if you wish). In pairs or groups the children should place the pictures in the order in which the creatures would come to eat portions of the wildebeest. The correct order is: lions, hyenas, jackals, foxes, vultures, raven/crow family and finally carrion beetles (known as sexton or burying beetles because they are the last to see anything of the corpse and strip the bones bare).

You can then act this out, asking children, in turn, to provide whispered commentary in the style of Sir David Attenborough. This can be great fun, but it is also an opportunity for children to add real detail, such as the hyenas looking warily over their shoulders as they eat, using warning sounds, and so on.

Children can also take it in turns to provide commentary for a night watch, while the rest are tourists asking questions. You can add realism by whispering, playing sound effects and darkening the room, if possible.

5. Recycled art

Many tourists who go on safari buy mementoes to remind them of their trip. An African man who lived close to a safari park, noticed that many of the tourists took photographs of the truck they had travelled in. He decided to use old drinks cans to make copies of the truck to sell to tourists. This truck was bought by George (see activity ‘George’s letter’, overleaf) as a present for his dad.

Challenge the children to collect all kinds of recyclable materials and use them to make animals to sell to tourists. They could use the list on Activity sheet 3, ‘The Big Five’ for ideas. Encourage the children to aim for accuracy and detail so that people will recognise and want to buy their models. The models can be used in the drama activities mentioned and the final project, if you wish.

6. George’s letter

Activity sheet 4, ‘George’s letter’ is a letter from George – a driver for an overland trekking company. It can be used in several ways. Children can:

  • write a letter to George asking him any questions that they have about his job
  • write a diary entry that George might make at the end of a day’s travel
  • write a letter to an imaginary company in which they apply for a similar job, mentioning their experience, interests and why they think they would do it well
  • imagine that they are George’s parents and he has just told them that this is the job he wants to do. They can carry out a discussion in pairs, one pointing out all the disadvantages and the other the advantages. This can also be carried out as an improvisation in front of the class, who can decide what they think the final decision might be
  • look carefully through the letter and make a list of the problems that they think he might have to deal with. Some are mentioned, some are not – such as difficult personalities among the passengers, having to have many injections against diseases, dangerous roads, difficulty in radio or phone contact. Children will need to fully imagine themselves in George’s position to appreciate all the potential difficulties
  • look up the website that George mentions, and see if they can find details of the trek that he is currently on. The site also shows photographs of the truck in various difficult terrains, such as ploughing through water.


7. A virtual safari

The children’s learning through the included drama, literacy and art activities can be brought together in a final project ‘On safari’, using the models, sound effects and parts of the drama sessions. This can be done as an assembly or performance piece in the hall with guides giving commentary, as a classroom drama with some of the class as guides and the rest as tourists, or as a whole-school activity with members of your class acting as guides to other classes and leading them around different areas of the school – waterhole, boma (gathering place), night watch, balloon ride and so on.

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