by Levi J Parsons
SYDNEY, May 15 (Xinhua) -- An Australian Conservation Group announced on Monday that it is putting the finishing touches on the world's first 3D virtual reality tree-kangaroo, in order to raise awareness about the intriguing animal.
The Tree-Kangaroo and Mammal Group came up with the idea when one of its committee members, Dave Hudson, began reading about the possibilities of virtual technology.
"We put a lot of effort into restoring habitat through tree planting, and we also work to raise awareness and educate people about tree-kangaroos, so we think this 3D virtual reality tree-kangaroo should give us a really good communication tool to engage the public, so they can learn about such a unique animal," Hudson told Xinhua Monday.
Based in the Atherton Tablelands, in Australia's far north, the dense rain forest region is home to the native local called the Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo.
"Most people don't actually know that there is a kangaroo that does climb trees," Hudson said.
In fact, there isn't a great deal know about the animal at all.
Hudson said, it's the scientific consensus that all kangaroos once lived in trees and due to some natural phenomenon began to search for food on the ground.
Although not listed as endangered by the Queensland State government, exact population numbers for the creatures are difficult to establish.
"They're really hard little critters to study," Hudson said.
The group has been working on the 3D virtual reality tree-kangaroo for approximately 18 months, enlisting the help of James Cook University's Information and Technology Academy to develop the project.
"Progress has been good!" Hudson said. "But slow because we've been working on a shoestring budget."
But a recent government grant, as part of the State's Advance Queensland Engaging Science program, has helped the development reach its final stage.
"The money will allow us to take the creation into visitor centres, schools and anywhere we can," Hudson said.
The experience will work by connecting a virtual reality headset to a computer.
"All of a sudden you are immersed in the rain forest, with a tree kangaroo and what we are working on now is what sort of interaction we want the tree kangaroo to have with the viewer," Hudson said.
But unlike other virtual reality experiences, which are mostly passive videos, "with this, the tree-kangaroo will react to your behaviour, so if you move towards it too quickly, it might move away from you, or if you might make a noise and it might react," Hudson said.
"Perhaps if you move a branch toward it with some juicy looking leaves on it, the tree kangaroo might reach out and take the branch."
The development of the project was made possible by a fellow wildlife carer on the Atherton Tablelands, who also looks after tree-kangaroos.
"She has a semi-wild tree-kangaroo called Kimberly that she raised from a joey," Hudson said.
"So that gave us the opportunity to take heaps of photos and videos that the University could then use to create a 3D virtual model of the tree-kangaroo."
Hudson and the Tree-Kangaroo and Mammal Group hope to have the creation installed in the Malanda Falls visitors center by August 2017 and expect it to be a big hit with tourists and locals alike.