Virtual safaris keep wildlife in sight for absent tourists

A family of elephants graze in Ol Pejeta conservancy, Kenya. With African wildlife parks hit hard by the disappearance of tourists, some operators are now sharing broadcasts of safaris on social media.— Khalil Senosi/AP

NANYUKI, Kenya: Virtual safaris are helping to distract people under coronavirus lockdowns while attracting badly needed support for African wildlife parks hit hard by the disappearance of tourists.

Wildlife tourism is a major source of revenue for countries like Kenya. Some operators are now sharing live broadcasts of safaris on social media in the hope that attention to endangered and other species doesn’t fade.

In the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, workers have created what they call Sofa Safari, driving around filming with a smartphone from an open-top vehicle.

"One of the ways we are trying to be innovative is looking at virtual ways of bringing wildlife to people’s homes, to their television sets and to their telephones," said the conservancy’s managing director, Richard Vigne.

Among the animals featured are the world’s last two surviving northern white rhinos. Researchers have been trying to use in-vitro fertilisation to save the species, using eggs taken from the two females and frozen sperm from dead males.

"It’s really important to continue to raise awareness," said Ellie Jones-Perrott, a zoology student and creator of Sofa Safari.

With limited Internet in the rural areas, the live broadcast can be unstable.

"The connection is sometime very hit and miss, we go in and out of signal especially when we see some cool stuff like the leopard who often live in the bush," Jones-Perrott said. "It’s hard to broadcast that live without cutting off.” – AP

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