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A Virtual Reality Farewell to the Last White Rhinos

A bittersweet documentary project to celebrate World Rhino Day.

via Kickstarter

If you have never seen a northern white rhinoceros in the flesh, you may not get a chance. After decades of intense poaching, the animals are now critically endangered. In fact, there are just four northern white rhinos left in the world—one in the San Diego Zoo, three others in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.


Which is why filmmakers Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill feel they are racing against time. They want their documentary, called The Ark, to capture all the remaining rhinos in a very particular way: using virtual reality (VR) film equipment. The technology, which “inserts” viewers into scenes using 360 degree shots viewed through a specialized headset, will give even those thousands of miles away from the last rhinos the impression of being in their presence.

‘There’s this lonesome, palatable feeling of tragedy around a species that is that endangered,” O’Neill told Hyperallergic. “VR is a very different approach. It’s similar to immersive theater. You have the capacity to give people the ability to create their own frames. It’s powerful.”

The filmmakers have already captured San Diego’s remaining (and aging) rhino on the specialized film. They also documented the efforts of San Diego’s Frozen Zoo project, which aims to save the species through preservation of the northern white rhinoceros’ genetic material.

A Kickstarter drive to support continuing filming of The Ark has already reached its $21,500 goal, though Jongsma, O’Neill, and their team continue to raise money for the film. The filmmakers say they will use the funds to travel to the remaining Kenya rhinos, and to document the work of the park rangers who protect them.

“Among the rhinos [the rangers] protect is Sudan, the last male northern white rhino,” the filmmakers write, “and the last chance for the species to reproduce through natural methods.”

(Cover image via wikimedia commons user Sheep81)

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