So, most naturalists own a pair of binoculars and, if they’re interested in small things, a hand lens to look at things up close.
But I’m in a dilemma here, because I want people to go out and enjoy natural history. But more and more people are experiencing much of their learning using screens and will gradually move from screens that are in front of you about there to screens that are on
your head – virtual reality. So, can we use the
fact that half the world now spends its leisure time in one of these things on to
inform them about natural history and conservation? Well, it’s happening. There’s a website called vEcotourism dot org virtual eco-tourism You might not be able to afford to go to Africa but you can visit the habitat of gorillas and elephants and orangutans and other endangered species
virtually and you’ll soon be able to do so with a VR headset. Trouble is, it’s all audio visual, you don’t get the smell, don’t get the touch. But it’s pretty good. And as a means of education, it’s a very powerful educational tool, because it is immersive and it’s interactive. So the virtual tours which we take on vEcotourism dot org, we try and make it like you’re there – you see something interesting, when you click on it it’s like putting up your binoculars and you see the animal behaviour. Or it’s like you tap on the guide next to you and he or she explains what’s going on. And when we do the live tours, vEco live, the guide is actually responding to questions. So, a child in a class in New York or in Singapore might be seeing it on the screen in the classroom and they ask the teacher to type in a question. And if I’m the guide, I hear it, and I say ‘hello George, hello Lee’, ‘that’s a good question, what you just heard was a Ruwenzori turaco’, or whatever the bird was. And then you click and up comes a little video of that species. So, a simultaneous lecture to people all over the planet who, if they asked a question that is selected, get it answered personally in real time. That’s the vEco Live experience. The tours which are on the website all the time – anyone can go to vEcotourism dot org – click on the tab ‘take a tour’ and choose where you want to go, that’s all pre-recorded. But the live things make it very exciting. So, virtual reality is a new way of learning about wildlife, But I must say, at the end of every virtual tour, I would say take that thing off, get your binoculars and go outside and see the real world!