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Researchers work with award-winning artist and writer to create ‘Virtual Ark’ of endangered species

10 May 2021

Panda cubs photo credit Tim Flach
Pandas are one of the 15,000+ species threatened with extinction. Credit: Tim Flach

A downloadable virtual reality experience of five key species will form part of a digital collection of artwork and writing created by schoolchildren and members of the public.  

Due to launch in late 2021, the Virtual Ark aims to highlight the wonder and vulnerability of the world’s extraordinary animal heritage and what can be done to safeguard its future. Run in partnership with The Frozen Ark – an initiative to collect DNA samples of endangered species’ genetic materials and deep freeze them in a biobank – the Virtual Ark also seeks to raise awareness of the importance of biobanking for species conservation.

The content for the Ark was inspired through a series of creative workshops run by the Cardiff researchers, along with artist Paul Evans, writer Rowena Sommerville, The Frozen Ark biobank and arts and social heritage organisations Our Big Picture and Tees Valley Arts.

Participants co-created a virtual 'gene bank' of endangered species consisting of hundreds of animal models made at the 2021 Cardiff Science Festival and by Lincolnshire primary school pupils, and poetry and illustrations by writers’ groups based in Tees Valley, Whitby, and Grimsby. Researchers from The Frozen Ark biobank also contributed text, models and drawings based on their favourite animals to feature in the Ark.

In addition to the publicly-generated content, the Virtual Ark will feature five key species rendered in virtual reality and available to download. The Virtual Ark team have nominated the Polynesian Tree Snail, which has recently been saved from the brink of extinction as the first species and launched a public vote to select the remaining four animals.

Director of the Frozen Ark, Prof Mike Bruford said, “The Virtual Ark is an amazing initiative that will help get the message out to young people, who hold the key to the future of our planet and its biodiversity. Paul and Rowena’s talents have enabled a transformative experience and the use of VR is tremendously exciting. I can’t wait to see what they produce”.

The Virtual Ark is funded by the Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants programme and by the Wellcome Trust ISSF3 Public Engagement Proof-of-Concept Award.

Pete Massey, Director (North) of Arts Council England said: "As concern for the planet and the increasing extinction of animals continues to grow, I'm really pleased that we are supporting a project that raises awareness of this issue using the arts in conjunction with science. I look forward to seeing the digital artwork that results".

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