From jungle to safari, Paris lays on "VR" adventure

PARIS, March 4 (Reuters) - Watch wild animals eyelash-close on an African safari, cruise the Arctic floes, explore the depths of the Amazon and the world’s oceans, all while barely leaving the spot: it’s an immersive adventure developed by Paris’s oldest theme park.

Using 360 degree cameras and moving seats, “Wild Immersion” gives visitors an up-close view of wildlife in the most remote and exotic locations, transporting them there through a combination of virtual reality and audio-visual technology.

Sponsored by the institute of British primatologist Jane Goodall, the project aims to be both fun and educational, while protecting the environment since participants “visit” the natural habitats without leaving a carbon footprint.

“Our aim is to teleport people into the wild so that they understand the importance of preserving biodiversity,” project founder Adrien Moisson said at last month’s launch at Paris’s Jardin d’Acclimatation.

Opened in 1860 as a zoo and children’s amusement park, Jardin d’Acclimatation is now run by French luxury group LVMH.

The concept for “Wild Immersion” came from Moisson, a former vet who worked in advertising before deciding in 2014 that he wanted to reconnect with nature and help protect the planet.

He began gathering vivid wildlife footage from around the world using a host of 360-degree cameras, building an immense database of video and audio. It wasn’t always straightforward: One of his cameras was eaten by a lion on the first day of filming, and another was crushed by an elephant.

“I thought at that point we’d never succeed,” he said.

But after more than a year of filming some 200 species across the continents, he now has six productions that will show for two months each over the coming year.

Viewers sit in special chairs and wear a virtual reality headset that plunges them into the jungle, the ocean, the African bush or an Arctic icescape, surrounded by the sights and sounds of each location.

“People have to love nature and animals in their natural environment,” said Moisson, calling it a positive experience.

The Jane Goodall Institute sees the project as a way of engrossing viewers while teaching them at the same time.

“The challenge is to educate people about the protection of wild animals and their habitat,” said Galitt Kennan, director of the institute in France, describing the films as “ethical, educational and environmentally friendly”.

At the start of one of the films, shot in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park, where Goodall began studying chimps 50 years ago, the 84-year-old primatologist says she learned as much about the ape’s behaviour in 20 minutes as she did in years in the field. (Editing by Luke Baker)