Photograph by Rebecca Hale
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National Geographic Explorer Gautam Shah aims to use digital games to promote conservation.
Photograph by Rebecca Hale

Can video games make people care about wildlife conservation?

This former IT consultant combines technology with his passion for nature to protect animals—virtually.

This story appears in the June 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Gautam Shah had spent 20 years working in IT—and his whole life caring about nature. He saw advances in conservation that got mentioned only in science journals, “but the story lines within that data are amazing; they’re fascinating,” Shah says. “They’re absolutely things that can engage an audience.”

Eager to use his techie skills for wildlife conservation, Shah—a National Geographic explorer—founded a game company called Internet of Elephants in 2016. The Kenya-based start-up designs digital experiences to tell real conservation stories based on real data.

Watch: How Digital Science Can Tell Animals’ Stories

At Explorers Festival London 2019, Gautam Shah explains how he hopes to catalyze new approaches to attract and engage the next generation of conservationists.

One example: Wildeverse, an augmented reality mobile app like Pokemon Go, launched in April 2020. In the game, players can “track” apes by collecting environmental samples such as fruit and scat. Rather than putting lots of high-tech tricks in a game, Shah says, the company prioritizes telling a compelling, true story through whatever technology is best suited to it.

Shah believes that gaming has a unique ability to connect audiences with wildlife in a deep, personal way that will generate concern and advocacy. His goal is for Internet of Elephants to reach more than 50 million people by 2027.

Ideally, he says, “we can create an entire industry where creating games and these type of digital experiences about wildlife conservation becomes as commonplace as creating a wildlife documentary.”