The Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group Inc (TKMG) is one of 19 community groups to receive project funding under the Terrain Community NRM Grant Programme, which is funded by the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme.
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 tree kangaroo is easily stressed animal so the opportunities for the public to get up close and personal with them is limited. Virtual reality has the potential to build awareness and educate the public without causing stress to the animals themselves.
Lumholtz's tree-kangaroos (LKT's) are much loved by the local community of the Atherton Tablelands, and are in effect, the regions equivalent of the koala. They are also a tourism drawcard, partly due to their unlikeliness - a kangaroo that climbs trees?!
While the Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo (LTK) is not considered a threatened species it shares 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 intend 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 programmers at James Cook University to create the tree-kangaroo, its setting, and the interactive experience, which will create a realistic experience of encountering a tree-kangaroo in the wild.