World’s First Augmented Reality Wildlife Photographer of the Year Announced

A world-first, augmented reality (AR) photo competition using Safari Central, a gaming app encouraging wildlife conservation, has resulted in hundreds of submissions from smartphone users worldwide resulting in the selection of contest winner, Richard Gudz from Pennsylvania in the United States of America. A panel of celebrity judges (wildlife photographer Paul Goldstein, activist and writer Bittu Sahgal and actress and conservation ambassador Anna Friel) chose the overall winning photo.​

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Copyright: Conservation International

Partnering organizations also held their own individual AR photo contests. Conservation International (CI) has selected Stephen Davis, a high school freshman from North Carolina, for his photo of Bebi the Indri Lemur of Madagascar.

Gudz won a week’s trip to South Africa with a three-day stay at Tswalu, a private game reserve in the Kalahari, to meet Rockstar the Pangolin, one of the stars of Safari Central. Gudz was selected because of his photo of Mweturia, a bull elephant living in Kenya, meeting a life-sized elephant on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC.

Davis will receive a copy of renowned primatologist and conservationist, Dr. Russell Mittermeier. ​​​​Davis won for the photo he submitted with Bebi the Indri Lemur while he wore his band uniform, playing the trombone.

“I have always grown up having monkeys as my favorite animal because they are so cute yet clever,” said Davis. “When it was time to pick an animal to take a photo for the Safari Central app, I knew it would have to be with none other than Bebi the Indri Lemur while I’m playing the trombone.”

“We selected Davis’ photo because it captured for us the personality of the lemur and why we want to conserve it for future generations to experience,” said Kipp Lanham, Media Relations Manager at Conservation International.

Other photos submitted for the contest depict, amongst others, a rhino roaming the Louvre and blocking traffic in Bangalore, selfies of people of all ages roaring along with a jaguar, and children getting close with a grizzly bear.

The photos taken by users on their own smartphones used Safari Central, an AR app by gaming company Internet of Elephants (IoE) developed in partnership with six renown conservation organizations: Conservation International, Space for Giants, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Pro-Carnivores, Chicago Zoological Society, and Tswalu Foundation. The app has been downloaded thousands of times since its launch in late August.

Gautam Shah, founder of IoE, commented,”Some submitted photos are funny, others tell stories about our relationships with animals, and many make a poignant statement about conservation. The winning photo has all three: there is the joke of seeing a virtual elephant meeting an elephant display, an interaction with the humans in the majestic museum space, and you can’t help but wonder if this is the only way we will see these animals in the future: as artifacts of a species that used to roam the world freely.”

Though the app is made to have fun, it has a serious purpose. IoE believes more people will support conservation if they can experience an emotional bond with individual animals living thousands of miles away. Conservation partners shared their data with IoE to create augmented reality (AR) versions of the real animals they research and protect, including Bebi the Lemur (living in Madagascar), Mweturia the Elephant and Lola the Rhino living in Kenya, Atiaia the Jaguar (living in the Atlantic Forest in Brasil), Rockstar the Pangolin (at home in the Kalahari dessert) and Ethyl the Grizzly (roaming the northern US). While playing, app users learn more about the real animal’s individual stories and can contribute directly to their conservation by purchasing more photo film.

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