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Scientists use virtual reality to protect Jaguars

Could virtual reality change the fate of animals on the endangered species list?

Scientists use virtual reality to protect Jaguars

The species is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and at last count, there were a mere 15,000 left in the wild. Habitat loss and overhunting have seen the gradual decline of the species over years in nearly every environment they call home.

Scientists from Queensland University of Technology have begun utilising virtual reality in a bid to protect the dwindling Jaguar population of Peru.

Led by Kerrie Mergersen of the School of Mathematical Sciences, the team from Queensland University, used GoPros to film 360-degree footage of the Peruvian jungle – the home of the endangered Jaguar species.

By utilising the virtual footage, the team then combined mathematical and statistical modelling to map out an immersive view of the jungle, without having to set foot in the environment. This meant that there was minimal impact on an already endangered and at-risk environment.

“Often it’s difficult to get into these places where the animals live,” Mengersen told Mashable Australia. “Instead of taking experts out to those inaccessible places, we want to be able to bring those areas to the experts.”

This groundbreaking method will be particularly useful when choosing sites for jaguar corridors, the large areas of land that Jaguars use to travel from one part of the jungle to the next.

These safe passages are essential to the survival of the species, as without them, the Jaguars are not able to properly hunt, live and breed safely.

“The problem is then, if we want to create these corridors, what land do we buy?” she said. “You’ve got a lot of factors that come into play: You need sufficient prey, as well as protection from human hunting and logging.”

Mengersen hopes that her team’s findings will lead to the development of an evidence base that can predict how made-made corridors will impact the animal population. “People know a lot, and we want to be able to get at it in a way that’s robust and informative,” she said.

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

 

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