Worldwide launch: Experience ‘My Africa’ in virtual reality

Naltwasha Leripe with an elephant in Northern Kenya. (© Georgina Goodwin)

Today, Conservation International released its “My Africa” virtual reality project to the world in seven languages.

“My Africa” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on April 20 and is now available in English, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Samburu, Spanish and Swahili. The film is available in 360 degrees on conservation.org/myafrica and the full virtual reality experience is available on the WITHIN app.

The film tells the story of a young Samburu woman in Kenya whose community is working to save elephants, reknitting an ancient coexistence between people and wildlife. The project is narrated by Academy Award-winning (and Kenyan-raised) actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Directed by four-time Emmy winner David Allen, the project was captured with virtual reality cameras in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy in Samburu County of northern Kenya at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, the first elephant orphanage in Africa owned and operated by the local community. In a region where conservation has traditionally been pursued by wealthy outsiders, Reteti and the surrounding Northern Rangelands Trust offer a different model — one grounded in local leadership and traditional knowledge.

The project comes at a critical time for East Africa’s wildlife. Poaching, land degradation and climate change threaten the long-term survival of many of the region’s most iconic species and strain the resources that people need to survive. In “My Africa,” viewers glimpse a path forward: A place where communities work for the long-term success of the species and reap the benefits, including increased stability, opportunity and improved livelihoods.

“’My Africa’ is about a path forward for saving the miracle that is Africa — the last place on Earth where significant numbers of the world’s largest land animals still roam,” said project Executive Producer and Conservation International CEO Dr. M. Sanjayan. “If we are going to save nature in a crowded world we need to entirely rethink how we go about it. This film shows a new way, one that unites, rather than divides, people from wildlife. Today, conservation is not about building fences but rather breaking down barriers, so that local communities benefit when nature thrives.”

How “My Africa” came to life

On April 4, Human Nature shared some of our favorite photos taken at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, with stories about the elephants and the caregivers who look after them. The sanctuary rescues orphaned elephants from across northern Kenya. These baby elephants have fallen into wells, been abandoned by their herds, come into conflict with humans or were left orphaned by poachers. Working with partners from the Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenyan Wildlife Service, Conservation International and others, Reteti rescues these elephants from the wild, protects them, feeds them during a critical stage in life and trains them for eventual release back to the wild.

However, local communities and elephants didn’t always co-exist easily. On March 23, Human Nature discussed the work that needs to be done in the villages outside Kruger National Park in South Africa. Kruger National Park is as far from the northern plains of Kenya as New York is from Utah. And yet the two places share a common challenge: how to conserve wildlife while delivering justice to communities.

For these villages, it’s easy for communities to ignore the plight of clumsy elephants that fall into their water holes at night and break down fences by accident, but elephants are valuable to their ecosystems. On March 28, Human Nature explained four ways elephants benefit your life including planting trees, which fights climate change.

“My Africa” is Conservation International’s third virtual reality project, following “Valen’s Reef” and “Under the Canopy.” The virtual reality approach, says Sanjayan, is bringing the nature documentary into the 21st century and aimed at growing new levels of support for conservation. “Virtual reality can give viewers that in-depth experience that is so needed to build empathy and, we hope, inspire action.”

“My Africa” was produced by Passion Pictures in association with Vision3 and with the support of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. Additional support for distribution was provided by glassybaby.

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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