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The digital wilderness uniting gamers to protect real-life

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Can gaming reset the natural world? This is what innovator Gautam Shah asked himself when he recognised how many communities are disconnected from nature. Today, over four billion people live in urban areas where society often revolves around technology. “The importance in people’s lives of wildlife conservation is really, really low,” Shah says. Realising that people aren’t disinterested but lack the knowledge of how it relates to them, he’s using games to amplify their drive to preserve animals.

Between 1970 and 2016, species populations have declined by over 60% and continue to decrease. Having travelled from the United States to Kenya, India, and other parts of the world, Shah encountered wildlife but never felt like he made a positive impact on them. So after 20 years as an IT consultant, he quit his job and developed Internet of Elephants. His social initiative uses digital channels as a vehicle for people to support wildlife. “Technology in other ways is being used to connect people with other people around the world,” Shah says. Now he’s using it to bring them closer to wildlife. Together with his team, he collects data and tracks real animals such as elephants, lemurs, and rhinos to deliver their individual stories to players through augmented reality mobile games. In partnership with animal experts working in the last wild habitats of apes, Internet of Elephants launched the interactive app Wildeverse. These true tales of primates allow gamers to experience protecting the planet’s life in a digital jungle.

“It’s important for people to see conservation as accessible if we want them to get involved,” Shah says. Inspiring users to actively participate, the Run Wild digital challenge targets runners to compete with a pangolin in Kenya, a tiger in Bhutan, and a snow leopard in Mongolia. Through the experience, athletes are updated on the animals’ quest for food, their battle against poaching, and given the opportunity to contribute to charities. In 2017, the platform’s series Stories of the Wild won Gold in the European Design Awards, and continues to break ground in shifting people toward preserving species. Shah’s ensuring the modern technology we’ve invented today works in harmony with the natural world that has survived long before us.

Footage by Internet of Elephants was used in the creation of this film.

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