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A Biodiversity Card Game

Volume 1 Number 9 - July 1994

Adam Adamou

As we gamble with our future, carelessly driving plants and animals to extinction, it is ironic that a card game can teach about the loss of the world's biodiversity.  But should we use games to teach such important issues?  If they work, yes!  We should not fall into the trap of teaching all critical issues 'seriously', as an element of fun can generate a great deal of energy and will leave people wanting to know more.  

The following game is in its most simple form.  With a little imagination, you can make it as scientifically accurate as you want making it playable from preschool to undergraduate level.  Try it out with an open mind and you should be pleasantly surprised! 


50 pieces of rectangular card of equal size.  About 10cm by 8cm will do, but this is not important.  You may use any type of card, even cardboard, as long as you can write or draw on each side.  You will also need a thick pen and some floor space (3m by 3m).  Play the game outside if the weather is nice.

Making The Game:

  • Draw a different leaf on one side of each piece of card.  It is not important to use the leaf shapes of actual plants, just use your imagination!  The differences can be great or small in shape or size.  The main thing is that no two cards are the same, .
  • Take twenty 'leaf' cards and write, on the blank side, a known use for a plant.  For example; 'Contains a chemical capable of killing cancer cells', 'Possible AIDS cure, 'Fruit contains vitamin C', 'Natural pesticide in sap', 'Possible male contraceptive', 'Natural soap', 'Edible root', 'Drought resistant strain of a crop', etc.

Playing The Game:

  1. Tell your group that, until recently, conservation and development were thought of quite separately (do not elaborate at this stage!) and that they are going to play a game to see what used to happen.
  2. Spread your cards randomly over the floor space, leaf side up.  Explain that this depicts all the different plant species in a given habitat, such as a forest.
  3. Make two teams of four people and one of two.  The rest of the group can look on.  One team of four represents subsistence farmers, the other a logging company.  The team of two represent the conservationists.
  4. In each round each person in a team takes one card only.  This represents, in a given time span (say, 10 years), the plants lost under farmland or logging and those saved by conservationists.
  5. Ask each team member to see if anything is written on their card.  The news of the plants lost to the farmers or loggers is received with a 'BOO!' as these plants are now 'extinct'.  The news of the plants saved by conservationists is greeted with an 'HOORAY!'.
  6. Take the cards from the loggers and farmers and put them in two piles - 'with writing' and 'without writing'.  These are now in the 'museum'.  Do the same with the conservationists' cards.  These are now in a 'nature reserve'.
  7. Repeat this exercise three more times so that only ten cards remain.  Now shout 'STOP!'  Show the group the cards (plants) lost to the farmers and loggers.  Read out all their uses.  Look sad and say, 'What on Earth are we doing?'  Pick up the cards with no writing and say, 'I wonder if these might have been of any use?  They are gone for ever so we will never know'.
  8. Do the same for the conservationists' cards, but be cheerful and say that we can now research the cards with no writing on, '...for who knows what they might offer.'
  9. Explain to the group that in reality the loss and protection of species has been a battle between conservationists and other vested interests, like in the game.  Stress that had you played the game realistically, you would have only written on one of the cards as only about 1% of the world's plants have been researched for their uses.  Ask the group what they now feel about losing any cards, whether written on or not?  Ask them to look at the remaining ten cards and ask what they think they should do now.  Do the farmers and loggers agree?

Suggestions For Follow Up:  

  • Ask the group to count as many different leaves as possible nearby (even 'bare' grassland is okay, just look closer).
  • Find out if they know any uses for any of the plants.
  • Discuss with the group to how farmers, loggers, conservationists and others could work togeter.  Introduce the idea of sustainable development.  

About the Author 

Adam Adamou
International Centre for Conservation Education
Greenfield House,
Guiting Power,
Cheltenham, Glos.  GL54 5TZ


Jouer Avec Votre Futur; Un Jeu de Cartes Sur la Biodiversit‚

Ce jeu de cartes apprend aux ‚lèves certaines notions concernant la perte de la biodiversit‚.  Les ‚lèves sont divisés en trois équipes: des fermiers de subsistance, une compagnie forestière, des scientifiques chargés de la conservation.  Les cartes, représentant les différentes espèces dans leur habitat sont réparties sur le son.  Quelques cartes mentionnent l'utilisation des plantes.  Les joueurs prennent une carte à tour de rôle.  Les espèces de plantes prisent par les fermiers et les forestiers sont éteintes, alors que celles prise par les partisans de la protection de l'environnement sont sauvées.

A mesure que le nombre de cartes diminue, les ‚lèves sont encouragés á discuter de ce qu'ils pourraient faire pour stopper cette perte de biodiversité.  Des idées sont données pour poursuivre le jeu.


Jugando con Nuestro Futuro; Un Juego de Biodiversidad

Este es un divertido juego de cartas que enseña a los estudiantes sobre la pérdida de la biodiversidad. Los estudiantes se dividen en tres equipos: granjeros, compañía de tala de árboles y conservacionistas. Las cartas, que representan varias especies de plantas en su habitat, se extienden en el suelo; algunas cartas tienen escrito el uso de las plantas. Los jugadores tienen que tomar un orden para coger una carta, las plantas que cojan los granjeros o leñadores son "extinguidas" y las plantas que cojan los conservacionistas son "salvadas".

A los estudiantes se les anima a discutir sobre lo que pueden hacer ellos para parar la pérdida de biodiversidad cuando el número de cartas disminuye, teniendo que dar ideas para continuar.