Conservation International released its latest virtual reality project “My Africa” worldwide on the WITHIN app. Narrated by Academy Award-winning and Kenyan-raised actress Lupita Nyong‘o, “My Africa” transports viewers to an elephant sanctuary in Kenya, where a community is reknitting the bonds that have long enabled people and wildlife to coexist.
Viewers can also journey to “My Africa” in 360-degree video on conservation.org/MyAfrica. The film premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival VR Arcade, and is available in seven languages: English, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Samburu, Spanish and Swahili.
“My Africa” was produced for Conservation International by Passion Planet in association with Vision3 and with the support of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. Additional support for distribution was provided by glassybaby.
The film opens with iconic wildlife scenes: Viewers stand in the midst of a thundering herd of wildebeest migrating across the Mara River, in front of a lioness as she captures her prey, and later, with an inquisitive baby elephant in a community-led sanctuary in northern Kenya.
But “My Africa” is ultimately a story about people. A young Samburu woman named Naltwasha Leripe, with narration in English by Lupita Nyong‘o, takes viewers through her community’s daily life, tending livestock, digging “singing” wells deep into dry riverbanks and rescuing a baby elephant orphaned by a poacher’s gun.
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 conservancy organization, Northern Rangelands Trust, offer a different model — one grounded in local leadership and traditional knowledge.
“‘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.”
“Tiffany is proud to continue our support of Conservation International and further our wildlife conservation efforts with the release of ‘My Africa,'” said Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Chairman and President of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. “We believe people need to experience what is at risk of being lost in order to understand what needs to be protected. By transporting viewers to the majestic wildlife and natural landscapes of Kenya, we hope to inspire audiences to become more passionate advocates for conservation.”
Tiffany & Co. also contributes to wildlife conservation in Africa through the company’s charitable Save the Wild collection.
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. Here, in northern Kenya, is a new economy, one that enables people and nature to thrive together.
“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 is aimed at reaching new audiences to grow broader support for conservation. “Virtual reality can give viewers that in-depth experience that is so needed to build empathy and, we hope, inspire action.”
Audiences are responding and taking action. Conservation International’s first two virtual reality projects have earned more than 3 million views to date. “Under the Canopy” helped the organization, with the backing of SC Johnson, protect 10,000 acres in an acre-for-acre match program to conserve the Amazon rainforest. Those acres will now kick off the world’s largest tropical reforestation effort, taking place in the Brazilian region of the Amazon.
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary featured in “My Africa” opened in 2016 with the support of glassybaby – and in 2017, glassybaby was awarded with Conservation International’s Global Conservation Hero award in honor of its commitment to Reteti and for conservation efforts across the globe.