The Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group Inc (TKMG) is one of 19 community groups to receive project funding under the Terrain Community NRM Grant Program…
October 19, 2015
Earlier this year, the Atherton Tablelands' Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group successfully applied for a community NRM grant to begin a project that will harness rapidly evolving technologies to raise community awareness of conservation issues.
Using the latest computer wizardry, it will enable people to have the unique experience of getting up close and personal with a Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo via virtual reality.
The Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo, despite being a medium sized mammal and often active during the day, is quite cryptic in its habits. Virtual reality has the potential to bring Tree Kangaroos down from the trees so the public can get up close and personal with them, building awareness without causing stress to the animals themselves.
Lumholtz's tree-kangaroos (LTK's) are much loved by the local community of the Atherton Tablelands, and are in effect, the region’s equivalent of the koala. They are also a tourism drawcard, partly due to their unlikeliness - a kangaroo that climbs trees?!
While the LTK’s are not listed as a threatened species they share the same habitat as a range of others, which are either listed as endangered (eg. cassowaries) or at great risk from the impacts of climate change (eg. Lemuroid ringtail possum).
One of the TKMG's main goals is to raise awareness of tree kangaroos, which is easier said than done when they are not easily observed in the wild.
Visitor and other interpretive centres typically rely on videos and photos. The Malanda Visitor Centre has a taxidermied specimen on display and is situated adjacent to a Conservation Park in which the keen-eyed can sometimes spot an LTK high up in a tree.
Even in zoos LTKs are difficult to observe and there is extremely limited opportunity for direct interaction with the animals.
This project will therefore bridge the gap and enable the public to learn about and interact with these animals.
Virtual Reality Experience Bridges the Gap
One of the most exciting aspects of the project is that the technology is transferable. In other words, once the concept has been proven just about any animal can be created, which opens up the possibility of creating similar projects for species that are dangerous, difficult to find or suffer undue stress if handled.
It is also portable; all that’s required is a laptop, Oculus Rift (or similar) goggles, and space for the experience to happen.
Once complete TKMG initially intends using the virtual reality project for the Malanda Falls Visitor Centre and for school visits.
Stage 1 of the process involves purchasing of the necessary hardware and engaging a grad student at James Cook University to create the tree-kangaroo, its setting, and the interactive story, which will create a realistic experience of encountering a tree-kangaroo in the wild.
TKMG has committed $2500 of its own funds towards the project, with the Terrain grant making up the balance of the $8Kbudget.