Here’s How Virtual Reality Is Saving Endangered Animals

Photograph by Getty Images

Scientists are taking an all-new technology to help solve an age-old problem: animal extinction. Virtual reality is being adapted to help scientists collaborate on ways to improve remote animal environments to support their survival.

Kerrie Mengersen, a professor at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, has been one of the researchers pioneering this approach, reported Mashable. She led a recent expedition to Peru to help track endangered jaguars, whose population is declining thanks to shrinking habitats and other threats. Along with her, Mengersen brought a bunch of GoPro cameras to capture 360-degree video of the remote areas she visited.

The purpose is two-fold. It can be used to engage the public and then can be shared across researchers, according to Mashable:

By viewing the virtual environments, scientists can share whether a jaguar would live in certain locations without actually having to travel to Peru. Potential signs of a jaguar population could include whether fruiting trees are present that could attract jaguar prey, or whether there is access to water or human habitation nearby.

The idea is to use these detailed videos to find ways to support jaguar repopulation by using the videos and statistical analysis to outline appropriate corridors for the animals to travel from one large swath of wilderness to another. That would help jaguars avoid human populations where they are in greater danger from poachers, logging, or human self-protection.

“We want the message to be: [Virtual reality] can be for more than the ‘ooh ahh’ of the technology, but also the ‘aha’ of science,” Mengersen told Mashable Australia.

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