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Courageous animals

by Philippa Rae

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To appreciate and celebrate acts of courage in the animal kingdom.

Preparation and materials

  • This assembly could be linked to a project or display about animals. Equally, parts of the assembly – working animals (police dogs, guide dogs) and animals that show exceptional endurance, for example – can be developed into standalone assemblies.
  • Find some images of courageous animals, such as those mentioned in the ‘Assembly’, below, and have the means to display them during the assembly itself (check copyright).
  • Supplementary images can be used to demonstrate the adversaries that animals such as the Emperor penguin (freezing icy conditions), dolphins (shark) and so on have to face.
  • Fun examples of animals in fiction and film can also be used.


  1. Welcome the children. Ask them what they think the word ‘courageous’ means. Can they give examples?

  2. Explain that there are different types of courage. In its widest sense it means the ability to confront fear, danger, pain, uncertainty or intimidation. Say that today you are going to be looking at the ways in which different animals display courage.

  3. Ask if the children know of any brave animals and why they think they are brave? It is quite likely the children will think of animals that display physical courage, such as those which show overtly brave characteristics and are fierce animals – lions and tigers, for example.

  4. It might surprise them to know that animals just like our pet dogs, cats and horses can show bravery in difficult and challenging circumstances. These animals aren’t as strongly built as fierce lions or tigers, which makes their courage all the more remarkable. 

    Show relevant images.

  5. Like us, animals can show courage when they battle to recover from an illness or injury, but they also show a great willingness to confront danger and uncertainty when we ask them to do jobs for us.

    Show relevant images.

    If you have seen the film or play Warhorse, then you will know that horses as well as other animals have helped us in times of war and conflict, and still do today. Though a fictional account, the story of the farm horse Joey, called to action during the First World War, shows us some of the appalling real-life conditions that these animals had to face.

  6. Other working animals also face situations that might be intimidating or dangerous. For example, animals (usually dogs and horses) trained by the police. You might have seen demonstrations on television when there are often large crowds of emotional and perhaps angry people. During such events, dogs and horses must be able to keep calm while carrying on with what their handlers are directing them to do.

    Show relevant images.  

  7. Animals are trained by the police to do many other duties, too. Janus is a Belgian Shepherd Dog that worked for the West Midlands Police before he was retired. He was one of five dogs nominated in the Kennel Club’s ‘Friends for Life’ competition in 2013 because of his exceptional devotion to duty and his terrific bond with his handler, PC Dan.  

    During his working life, he was fearless as he played his part in making 432 arrests. Janus had to scale 1.8-m fences and, using his tracking skills, he chased down suspects. As a result of such actions, he was able to secure the arrests of 285 crime suspects and assisted in another 147 captures. Some of his successes included uncovering £5,000 stolen from a security van during a robbery and sniffing out more than £10,000 worth of stolen power tools.

    The police have many other dogs like Janus assisting them.

  8. Creatures that live in the wild have different situations to face. Many are fearless when they are protecting their young against predators, but some are brave in different ways. Emperor penguins show exceptional endurance, coping with some of the harshest conditions known. 

    Show relevant images.

    They are the only animals to live on the open ice of Antarctica during the winter. There is no food, no shelter and there are below-freezing blizzards.

    When the female penguins go on the long voyage back to the sea to find food, their male partners have to keep the eggs they’ve laid safe and warm. As the birds have no material they can use to build nests on the ice, the males use their own bodies to keep the eggs sheltered. They do this by each balancing their egg on their feet and covering it with their warm feathery tummies.

    All the males huddle together in a large group in order to withstand the cold, taking it in turns to move inside the pack, where it is warmer, in order that the whole group can stay alive and have a bit of respite from the freezing wind and snow. As well as being very exposed on the ice, the penguins have nothing to eat. They have to wait like this for a couple of months before the females return to feed the chicks. Only then can the males return to the sea to fish.

  9. Dolphins are a special example of animals showing bravery against dangerous foes. In their case, they don’t do it only when they need to protect a family member, so they are said to be ‘altruistic’. Altruistic means having concern for the welfare of others. Throughout history there have been many stories of dolphins saving humans, as well as aiding other creatures in distress. For example, they have been seen trying to help whales that find themselves trapped in shallow water.

    Show relevant images.

Time for reflection

Think about the different ways in which these animals have shown courage.
Those that confront fear and danger, such as the animals that work for us, helping the police keep people safe at public events and keep order during demonstrations or riots.
Those that demonstrate friendship in adversity and confront uncertainty, such as working dogs like police dog Janus.
Those that show incredible endurance, such as the Emperor penguins.
Those that are fearless and stand up to fierce resistance, such as dolphins. 
Can you think of any courageous qualities that other animals show? They might be similar to the ones above. 

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the wonderful animals you have sent us that show great bravery as they carry out their duties.
Thank you, too, for giving us the opportunity to learn about those animals that demonstrate outstanding qualities, so we may have a better understanding of and compassion for the natural world.
Thank you for all the good things you give us.


‘Who put the colours in the rainbow?’ (Come and Praise, 12)

Publication date: June 2014   (Vol.16 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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