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Wildlife streaming boosts virtual tourism

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600 000 viewers across the world watched Nina the chimp give birth live on camera via Vox Telecom’s YahClick satellite connection at the Jane Goodall Chimp Eden Institute in Mpumalanga. According to the organiser GRAHAM WALLINGTON of WildEarth.tv, this is just the tip of the iceberg for live wildlife streaming.

WildEarth.tv has cameras stationed across the globe, streaming live from locations including black bear dens in the United States and storks’ nests in Romania. However, Africa has some of the most fascinating and diverse wildlife viewing in the world. People would love to watch wildebeest migrating or to peek inside wild dog dens. That’s never been practical until now.

The problem lies with the high cost of bandwidth and the lack of connectivity in rural areas. Even if you could obtain a satellite link, VSAT technology was just completely unaffordable for us. Fortunately, with the arrival of the YahClick Service from Vox Telecom, we’re able to broadcast from any remote location in South Africa, at a low cost.

YahClick is a broadband satellite service aimed businesses and communities operating in remote areas of the country that do not have access to a reliable ADSL connection. It enables platforms like WildEarth.tv to make use of uncapped upstream video at a low cost, from virtually any location with a power source. Previous connections uplinked us but then downlinked to Johannesburg, so we had to buy extra bandwidth needed to upload the information to servers in Europe. YahClick offers Ka-band technology and unlimited uploads directly to Europe, which makes it even more affordable for us.

WildEarth.tv now streams footage live from several locations across the country, including Thornybush Private Game Reserve, the Madikwe Nature Reserve, Pete’s Pond and Djuma, using YahClick Satellite Technology. We are also using a connection to shoot a 3D documentary about baboons in the Soutpansberg. The crew are sending us daily footage and communicating so that we can stay up to date with what’s going on in the field and offer advice and instructions.

Although some might question whether ‚”webcam‚” tourism can compare to the real thing, fans would disagree. We have viewers in the States who purposefully go to bed in the early evening just so that they can wake up at 3 am to watch the game drives live in South Africa. People are drawn to the unpredictability of it. Just like a real game drive, you have no idea what you will see or experience next.

Virtual tourism has had a positive impact on both eco-tourism and conservation. The benefit is that viewers see nature as it really is, and not in a condensed format such as a wildlife documentary. Documentaries are shot over a year and then edited into an hour’s worth of footage, often which has at times created poor perceptions of creatures such as sharks that are portrayed as very active and vicious hunters. Live streaming leaves the interpretation largely up to the viewer. They feel more connected and gain a better understanding of what these animals are really like, day-to-day.

The increased awareness also assists conservationists with fundraising. When we broadcast Lily the black bear giving birth in the wild for the North American Bear Centre, we created a Facebook page for her. On the back of the awareness created through the webcam over a million dollars in donations has been raised for the project, which was among others put towards building a new educational Centre. Pete’s Pond also saw an influx of tourists, who call themselves ‚”Pondies‚”, that have bonded over the video feed and pooled funds to travel to Africa and see the sights in person. More people are ‚”visiting‚” South Africa through the various cams in a day than actual tourists do in six months, generating online ad revenues and awareness. Our game drives from Thornybush generated over half a million views over the last three months. There is no way to accommodate that many visits to the reserve in real life without destroying the plant and animal life that we’re trying to protect. We can share the bush experience in a non-invasive way.

Farmers can also use their broadband satellite connection as an added revenue stream. If you have a watering hole or nest or den on your game farm, you might not want to go the route of building a game lodge or having flocks of tourists go on hunting expeditions on your property. Now you can actually film the animals and work with us to archive and distribute your content for a share of the advertising revenue generated online.

YahClick Project Manager Jacques Visser says he is extremely pleased with the amount of video feeds that will be enabled through the product. ‚”We are already working on installations in various new locations that will be going live very soon,‚” he says. ‚”We also have over 3,000 customers using the service at their homes, game lodges and guest houses across the country which will hopefully encourage even more tourists to visit rural South Africa.‚”

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