As part of my work as a statistician, I research virtual habitats, including models of areas inhabited by jaguars. Here, I’m on Lake Imiria in Peru, in a wooden canoe made by indigenous Shipibo villagers. Our team went out early in the morning to find jaguar prey such as capybaras, peccaries and tortoises, and search for jaguars – or at least try to trace their calls or footprints.
It seemed very calm, with towering trees and calm waters, but the air was accompanied by the cries of birds and the cacophony of mosquitoes – and sometimes stopping the shouts of team members when they caught sight of a sloth or a caiman. was given. Boats are the best way to get around because the forest is very hot, very dense and potentially dangerous.
Since jaguars are rare and elusive, there are very few recorded observations of them. So my team at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia uses virtual reality (VR) to help them understand. We take pictures of selected sites where jaguars can live and turn these photos into VR scenes.
Then, instead of taking the jaguar experts to the wild, we take the jaguar to the experts. These are a mix of local indigenous peoples, who apply their knowledge of the region and international experts. We immerse these experts in different places in our virtual wilderness and ask them: “How likely are jaguars to live, move, or hunt in this area?”
This immersive environment helps people remember and identify the important details we need to build our statistical models. These predict which jaguars are most likely to roam, and are being used to guide conservationists in Peru who are building a corridor between protected areas.
For example, when locals used our VR headset, they told us about the importance of the specific fruit trees on which the jaguar’s hunt depends. I understand this human knowledge as data that is hidden in the minds of these experts. The only way to tap those data is to put experts right there in the wilderness.