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Introducing Gorilla Safari VR! A Christmas present from Born Free

Born Free Foundation have a special gift to give this Christmas. Working in conjunction with vEcotourism.org they have just released a brand new app — Gorilla Safari VR — and it’s completely free!

I know quite a few people will be waking up to a VR headset underneath the tree on Christmas morning, but for those who aren’t ready to take the leap into fully immersing themselves in the virtual world just yet; you can still enjoy the app and its opportunity to explore the habitat of the Eastern Lowland (or Grauer’s Gorillas) using a smart phone or tablet. The app is available on IOS and Android.

Gorilla Safari VRIan Redmond OBE, is the guide on the Gorilla Safari VR, and will take you to the Kahuzi-Biegan National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the heart of Africa.

“I invite you to join me on this unique VR trip to learn more about the world’s largest primate – the Eastern Lowland, or Grauer’s Gorilla.” Ian writes on the Born Free Foundation website.With us will be John Kahekwa, winner of the 2016 Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, presented by HRH The Duke of Cambridge at the prestigious Tusk Awards this November.”

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A sneak peak of the VR tour

“Christmas is a time for family. And while most people take this to mean reconnecting with seldom seen siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, think for a moment about our wider zoological family. Don’t you wish sometimes you could get away from it all to visit your more distant relatives, the great apes?”

“If so, Born Free has a special Christmas gift for you this year. In conjunction with the team that brought you virtual travel via http://www.vEcotourism.org, and just in the nick of time for Christmas.”

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Meet Ian Redmond, John Kahekwa and Born Free Foundation President Will Travers in the app

Having supported the fantastic work of vEcotours for a while now, I was so excited to hear that they have developed an app for my favourite charity, which even includes a view of the Born Free Foundation Headquarters in Sussex.

I gave the app a little go this morning and I love it! Here’s how I got on…

Perhaps the coolest thing about this new app (other than the fact you can download it for free…), is that it arrives just in time for today’s BBC Two’s special Christmas Eve programming, which will see a back-to-back screening of Gordon Buchanan‘s two-part series The Gorilla Family & Me from 3:45 this afternoon.

Ian and John Kahekwa both worked with the BBC last year to make the two-part series, and there’s an opportunity in the Gorilla Safari VR app to look behind the scenes of the making of the documentary.

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Going behind the scenes with Gordon Buchanan while filming The Gorilla Family & Me

Join Gordon and the BBC film crew with the warden, rangers and trackers on the trail of siverback Chimanuka’s family. You could also spread some more Christmas cheer and continue being a part of Chimanuka and Mugaruka’s wild story by adopting the gorillas through Born Free Foundation.

You can adopt the pair (I have!) and receive a personalised adoption certificate, photo, cuddly toy gorilla, the pair’s full story and regular updates about the gorillas; courtesy of Adopt! magazine. To find out how, click here.

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To learn more about Gorilla Safari VR visit: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/news/news-article/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=2394 

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Discovery Education blog: VR apps for classroom conservation

Virtual Reality can take students out of the classroom and into entirely new lands, environments and experiences — from global travel to outer space — and it is primed to be the next big learning opportunity to integrate into the learning environment. (The ‘New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology’ report published by the World Economic Forum identified VR as a key opportunity for technology to be used in the advancement of social and emotional learning [SEL].)

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vEcotours VR app used in class at Cambridge Elementary School

There is a wealth of fantastic, educational material available for students to immerse themselves in, and I’ve been getting to grips with that from Discovery VR, the Natural History Museum, London (which I’ve previously written about here).

For a recent post on Discovery Education’s community blog, I looked at vEcotourism, which offers virtual tours across the globe to see endangered wildlife in their natural environments. They have recently introduced a new ‘kid’s version’ of their Mount Elgon virtual reality tour to visit the world’s only salt-mining elephants.

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This particular version is narrated by children and has been trialed in classrooms alongside project work to ‘adopt’ some of their other tour locations, challenging students to research the habitats and the species that live within them, and produce their own voice-over narration.

Read the full blog post here: http://blog.discoveryeducation.com/blog/2016/09/14/what-to-do-with-web-2-0-tools-vr-apps/

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Revisiting Sir David Attenborough’s Great Ape playmate

In the wake of Sir David Attenborough’s 90th birthday celebrations, the BBC has curated a fantastic collection of programmes from Sir David’s incredible, extensive catalogue of work, available on BBC iPlayer. The collection includes the brand new programme; Attenborough at 90, which sees a number of colleagues, friends and admirers of Sir David come together to celebrate his milestone year.

Of course, the birthday broadcast included one of the most celebrated (and remembered) moment of David’s on-screen history, which is…

NB: Since the making of these films, the practice of human interaction with wild gorillas is no longer permitted, due to further understanding of the human diseases we may pass on to them. 

Born Free Foundation supporter and ambassador of vEcotourism.org, Ian Redmond OBE, was on hand for the programme, filmed in front of a live audience, to reminisce the infamous gorilla introduction between Sir David and the gorillas.

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As Dr Dian Fossey’s research assistant, it was Ian who took David and the BBC crew to meet the gorillas. The incredible moment has been the subject of a new BBC Earth article, which goes on to explain what happen to the gorillas after that magical moment; written by Ian.

 “There is the unforgettable moment when Pablo, a playful youngster in Group 5, sits in David’s lap and sprawls back wriggling, making David grimace slightly despite his evident delight – I suspect that was because gorillas do have rather bony bottoms!” — courtesy BBC Earth.

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Ian Redmond observing the gorillas. Photo taken by DR Dian Fossey, courtesy of Ian Redmond.

Happily, Poppy, the then two-year-old infant who played alongside Sir David Attenborough, is now an elderly matriarch in the Susa Mountain Gorilla Group, which can be visited, virtually, at close range on the flanks of Mount Karisimbi, courtesy of vEcotourism.org. For full details and more information, click here or the picture below:

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The new naturalist’s kit bag…

What equipment does a naturalist usually need?

vEcos Adviser and Ambassador (and renowned wildlife biologist and conservationist) Ian Redmond suggests a binoculars and hand lens, but soon, a virtual reality headset could also be a vital piece of equipment!

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I’ve recently explored how natural history and conservation are establishing a firm place in the classroom (and assembly hall), with a recent review of Discovery Education‘s Racing Extinction virtual field trip and having visited a school in London to deliver a whole school Racing Extinction assembly alongside Born Free Foundation‘s Dominic Dyer.

But also making its way into new school learning is the presence of VR, virtual reality.

A recent post on Discovery Education’s community blog examines a new paper published by the World Economic Forum called ‘New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology’ in which VR, apps and wearable technology are recommended as opportunities for technology to be used in the advancement of social and emotional learning.

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Jumping on this trend, vEco have just published a new video, created by Craig Redmond, discussing how their 360-degree interactive, immersive tours, live tours and planned VR app are ahead of the game! Watch the video in full here (or click the image below)!

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Digital conservation and virtual reality tourism

Virtual reality technology is going to change the game of conservation in a huge way.

I spend a lot of my time indulging in digital content and documentaries, both for my job and as a hobby. I work as a sub editor for Discovery Education UK by day* and blog, build websites and try my best at photography in my spare time. (*Disclaimer: all thoughts on this blog are strictly my own).

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Having visited the BVE expo at the end of February with my good friends at Chiswell Studios, I have found a new excitement in all the potential opportunities of making virtual reality (digital worlds entirely created by people) and augmented reality (elements of the real world, but with digital graphics interspersed) media content for a more interactive audience experience.

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BBC’s Jon Page speaks about the change in the audiences’ role

I listened with particular interest to the seminar: ‘Creating a new broadcasting system with audience experience in mind’ by keynote speaker Jon Page, Head of Operations at BBC Research and Development (pictured above). Jon spoke of the way that audiences look for a personal, two-way experience to get the most of their media and positioned them as ‘explorers’ rather than ‘consumers’.

He showed us a video created by the BBC to demonstrate the type of audience experience they believe they will be catering for in the not-so-distant future:

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Aside from some of this imagined technology potentially impacting the type of content I would make for schools at Discovery Education (see the child doing his homework at 1:58), the video interested me in the way that it made Autumnwatch an interactive game.

‘Gamification’ was one of the buzz words of the expo’s seminars this year, along with ‘immersive’ and ‘responsive’. Jon even described what was happening with the imagined new version of Autumnwatch as ‘citizen science’ – and seeing as ‘citizen journalism’ is now so embedded in our culture that we barely give it a second thought anymore, the idea of the whole nation becoming ‘scientists’ to a degree, doesn’t feel that far fetched.

It seems now that the first generation of Internet gamers has grown up, the requirements they demand from their media consumption is somewhat different to the generation before. And how fantastic that we have the technology to deliver it!

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The entry page to a 360-degree, immersive digital tour of Mount Elgon, Kenya.

Enter vEcotours. With all this amazing technology and adapted content design, there must be a way we can use it for conservation education? …Exactly!

This World Wildlife Day, I posted about the live guided tour of Mount Elgon in Kenya that I would be taking — and I can say it was fascinating to share an online, immersive experience with people from all over the globe and various time zones; one where we could have a two-way conversation.

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Screen grab of the digital tour’s portals to other 360-degree landscapes

With Ian Redmond at the helm, guiding participants through the virtual world and into various portals of information (still images, videos, article clippings, etc.) and answering questions over his mic from the ‘explorers’ using the chat bar — and another member of vEcotours, Jay, responding to all other conversation in real-time via text on screen — that ‘personal, two-way experience’ that I heard about at BVE appears not to be just round the corner, but already here!

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A screen grab of some of the additional multimedia presented on the tour.

Never one to let an opportunity pass me by, I’ve decided to offer my web publishing and writing skills to vEcotourism and have joined the team as a blogger!

I’ll be sure to post info and updates of what I get up to with vEcotours on this site too, so please keep an eye out for those! But in the meantime, why not check out what all the excitement is about and take a virtual tour of one of their locations? Turn the volume up and enjoy!virtualtouroverview

You can follow vEcotourism on Facebook and Twitter for more info too.

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Join me for a unique World Wildlife Day adventure!

This World Wildlife Day (TODAY!), I’m taking a special trip to Kenya… Do you want to come too?

I’m going to visit the world’s only salt-mining elephants. If I’m completely honest – I didn’t know until yesterday that there was even such a thing as a salt-mining elephant; so to have the chance to discover more about these animals and their behaviour in their natural environment is pretty extraordinary. And I get to do it without leaving my chair!

I’m having a live, 360-degree immersive tour of the dark caves of Mount Elgon in Kenya, guided by wildlife expert and conservationist Ian Redmond OBE. And you can come too!

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Apparently the tour will be taking guests deep underground, to see the world’s only underground elephants (known as troglodyte tuskers), as they feel their way through the pitch-black caves using their trunks.

Ducking under the bats roosting overhead to explore the mysterious crevices and discover the rarely seen behaviours of these incredibly rare creatures; I think it’s going to be a rather unique experience.

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The tour is taking place at 3pm (GMT), at live.vecotourism.org. If you can’t make that one, there’s second chance to take the #WorldWildlifeDay tour at 8pm (GMT) – but as they are both LIVE, it’s important to arrive on time and climb aboard with your headphones turned up: there won’t be another chance if you miss it!

I’ve always wanted to visit Kenya and I love elephants. Last year I held a fundraising event to raise money for the Born Free Foundation’s Europe elephant sanctuary for rescued captive and circus elephants, and I’ve previously interviewed the makers of the moving documentary Elephant in the Room about the impact on elephants of living in zoos; but to actually celebrate these animals living naturally in the wild is a positive rarity for me – and seems like the most fitting way to celebrate World Wildlife Day!

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We unite, we stand and fight!

In the age of information, where choice rules and diversity divides, finding and nurturing connections made over a mutual attitude towards a cause, is something worthy of a blog post – in my humble opinion.

I mentioned in a previous post that this year’s St Albans Film Festival was of particular interest to me, when I found not one, but two festival entries related to the Born Free Foundation.

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The first was Elephant in the Room, a short documentary that I was already familiar with (though nonetheless excited to find entered – and shortlisted – in my local film festival!), but the real surprise of the event was a call to arms, emotionally-charged protest song and music video documenting Born Free patron, and legendary guitarist, Brian May’s fight against the badger cull.

“It’s a salute to the 7,000 participants in the march,” filmmaker Michael Dias tells me.

Michael not only shot and edited the video – a runner up in this year’s film festival – but he also penned the ‘We Unite‘ song; which is performed by his crowd-gathering musician father, Ricky Lopez.

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The success of Michael’s protest march video (produced and edited at Chiswell Studios) saw him go on to become Brian May’s official videographer for his Save Me charity, while his father, Ricky, joined Brian May on stage at renowned music and wildlife celebration ‘Wildlife Rocks‘ at Guildford Cathedral.

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Talking to the pair, it’s clear to see the Save Me projects have been a labour of love, and one that fuses their music passions with a desire to publicly support causes that move them.

“We saw the badger cull on TV and wanted to do something,” they explain.

Michael joined the Save the Badger protesters in central London on the 1st June 2013 with camera in hand.

“I’d looked on BrianMay.com and Save Me and noticed there were no videos, so I put some of the footage together in the studio and sent it over.”

The final video was not only retweeted by Queen and May’s official Twitter pages, but it also made its way onto May’s official website.

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“I used the song from the badger cull animation that went viral in my first compilation reel,” Michael explains, “and he liked it a lot – so I offered to film more, free of charge, just to support the cause and raise awareness of what was going on concerning the controversial cull.”

From there, the idea for ‘We Unite‘ came into fruition.

I was lucky enough to hear a live performance of the song during my interview, and I can’t wait to see what the pair come up with next.

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…And for good measure — I couldn’t not put May’s viral ‘Save the Badger Badger Badger’ video on here somewhere (Note: it’s where the soundtrack to Chiswell Studios‘ first compilation of march footage came from).