A South African Immersive Wildlife Company helped Ellen DeGeneres raise over R73 million for Gorillas in Africa!
Johannesburg, South Africa – Habitat XR, a Johannesburg-based production company specialising in creating virtual reality experiences of nature and wildlife, has revealed that it has recently been working with well- known talk-show celebrity, actress and comedienne, Ellen DeGeneres, and her gorilla conservation non-profit, The Ellen Fund.
DeGeneres is well-known for her comedy, but what isn’t as commonly known is her passion for protecting our wildlife. In fact, her hero since childhood was Dian Fossey, the legendary figure featured in the book and movie Gorillas in the Mist. With this in mind, Portia de Rossi (Ellen’s wife and fellow actor) surprised Ellen with the birthday gift-of-a-lifetime: an opportunity to follow in her hero’s footsteps by establishing a home for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund through the newly established Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund.
This gift gave Ellen — and the millions who love her — the opportunity to be a champion for an endangered species, just like Ellen’s hero Dian Fossey.
DeGeneres has since initiated one of the world’s largest gorilla conservation projects in Rwanda having visited the country in May 2018. The comedian is building a campus in Rwanda, dubbed, The Ellen DeGeneres’ Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, at the foot of Volcanoes National Park, a natural habitat of the endangered species, in Musanze District.
Habitat XR was brought on to film wild mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, in 360 degrees. This footage was used to create an immersive virtual reality experience at a fundraising gala called Gorillapalooza on Saturday 12 October at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. The experience teleported celebrities in attendance to the volcanic jungles of Rwanda, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Sofia Vergara, James Corden, Kris and Kendal Jenner.
Company CEO Ulrico Grech-Cumbo notes, “If you have never seen an endangered mountain gorilla in the wild, it’s psychologically difficult to care profoundly for them. A person is far less likely to donate to a cause that is not personal. While the experience we gave was virtual, research shows that nature VR bridges the cognitive gap and create very real empathy, which is basically a currency at a fundraising gala”.
James Corden and Ellen DeGeneres entertained crowds on stage at Gorillapalooza as they solicited bids after the VR experience in an effort to raise funds for the gorillas.
“We were hoping to raise $2 million (R29,5 million). That didn’t happen”, said Ellen DeGeneres.
“We raised $5 million (R73,7 million). This is so important because there are only 1,000 mountain gorillas left.”
How a local company got to work with a Hollywood titan
On the origin of the project, Grech-Cumbo explains, “I had visited both the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund offices and the Rwanda Development Board in 2018 to show them our work. I persisted with communication for many months to explore working together. One day, I got a call from Tara Stoinsky, the head of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, about working with them and The Ellen Fund on a VR experience. The next thing we knew, we were 4,500m up the side of a jungle, stinging nettle everywhere, harsh sun interspersed with rain and hail, but most importantly amongst a family of 24 gorillas!”
Not long after that, The Ellen Fund invited Habitat XR’s team to attend the gala event with VR goggles in tow to immerse the glamorous crowd, many of whom had never experienced VR before. The team was also invited to the famous Ellen Show, where they showed audience members the same VR experience, earning the piece a shout-out on the show itself.
About Habitat XR
Formed originally in 2016 as Deep VR Wild, Habitat XR is the only company in the world dedicated to using immersive technology to create an impact in conservation. The team has produced projects for global conservation non-profits such as WWF and Conservation International, as well as several self-funded films including “Rewild” and more recently, “A Predicament of Pangolins”.
Check out Ellen’s Instagram post featuring Habitat XR and the VR experience below:
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#repost @theellenfund ・・・ "Isn’t it incredible? It’s like you’re with the gorillas!” – Ellen on the #gorilla #VR at #gorillapalooza. Watch in your own headset at TheEllenFund.org/getvr Thanks: Rwandan Gov't, @habitat_xr , @savinggorillas (No gorillas were harmed – filmed with a camera on tripod.)