Virtual Reality Safaris – The End of Traditional Zoos

3D Zoos


Illustrator: Joe Evans.  Copyright Ketan Varia/Animal Interfaith Alliance

By Ketan Varia

“I was once in a Safari Park in Kenya in 2005 with my family and saw a lioness as she lay in the grass. Shortly after, she started walking in an elegant and carefree way, towards her family, I suspect (it was early evening).

“A year or so later, I took my family to an animal safari park in Milton Keynes.  The lions there were beautiful, but something was different.   In Kenya, I felt a sense of awe for the lioness.  She made it clear that it was her territory and we were the visitors.  During the safari park visit, the pride of lions we saw looked well fed, but we knew that they were in an enclosure and had adapted to life in an ‘open prison’.  Although I cannot claim they felt miserable, they certainly weren’t free”.

Over 10,0001 zoos exist worldwide, with an estimated holding of about a million vertebrate animals. This seems to provide some benefit for the 7002 million visits the zoos receive from people who come to see them to appreciate the diversity of this earth.  However, what is the cost of this to the animals?  Are we seeing them in their real environment or are we seeing just a shadow of their glory?

Zoos are Outdated

Zoos and animal parks are outdated ways to see animals in the 21st Century.  We now have the technology to provide an experience that both allows us to see animals in their natural habitat and make their experience convincing and ‘real’ and at an affordable price.  Zoo owners will argue that the visits pay for conservation. But we need to build a better virtuous circle.  Conservation should be done within the local environment, except in exceptional circumstances. If you had an illness and needed support, would it not be better to be treated locally than in a hospital ‘cell’ thousands of miles away from your habitat?

What would the Mechanism be for a Virtual Reality Safari?

Using hidden cameras in the wild, in remote locations, we can project their views onto 3D environments locally in the western world.  We would see animals in their natural habitat and be able to see what the wildlife experts saw.  The 3D real-time effect could also involve surprise elements, which would make the experience vivid and engaging.

We could have Safari ‘drives’ with trains or cars driving on a mini ‘track’ adjacent to the 3D screens/projection, so you could see in full perspective – as if you were really there.  The main cameras would be by lakes and rivers, where animals go frequently for nourishment.  It would be possible to have cameras on high wires, hidden between trees, so that they could move in sync with the person creating a real 3D effect, giving a real sense of being in that environment

Technology for a 3D Virtual Reality Safari

The Technology for 3D and entertainment is well established and can come from three main sources:

Firstly, from theme parks that understand how to create an engaging experience. Secondly, from 3D films which are now rendered to make films come alive.  Thirdly, from filming animals/nature in the wild, such as the wonderful nature programmes we have seen from the BBC and National Geographic.  The idea of insitu cameras is nothing new, with BBC’s programmes like “Winterwatch” already established.

Once this concept takes off, there would need to be controls in place to limit the interference to the animals’ environment and lives, and limit the wildlife areas being used to this end.


We don’t need zoos that trap animals, but virtual reality Safaris that utilise technology for a cruelty free experience of seeing animals in their natural habitats. This will create a virtuous circle of conservation which is more sustainable.

Ketan Varia, Director of the Animal Interfaith Alliance.  Editorial support by Jayni Gudka.

  1. Warwick Frost, “Zoos and Tourism: Conservation, Education, Entertainment?”.16 Dec 2010. Print
  2. “The world zoo and aquarium conservation strategy”, World Zoo and Aquarium Association (WAZA). 2015. Web.


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