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Animal Captivity’s Animatronic Alternative

Zoos and aquariums can be great educational resources and can help protect endangered species but many conservationists question the morality of captivity. Modern robotics may have the answer to our moral dilemma, life-like animatronic animals. This development could change how we view conservation and education for years to come.

Mika Kaptur / via Pixabay / Pixabay

A Need Rises

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries such as China have halted the trade of wildlife as an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Policies such as this have stopped zoos and aquariums from importing new animals. This is great for our wildlife but it leaves zoo and aquarium owners in a tough spot. Luckily, one New Zealand entrepreneur has been working to create robotic animals that could take the place of live animals in captivity.

Tom Ana / via Pixabay / Pixabay

Melanie Langlotz and her team of experts helped build a 600lb (270kg) animatronic dolphin that moves and reacts just like the real thing. Working as an augmented gaming professional in Auckland, New Zealand, Langlotz was approached to help design an aquarium for dolphins in China. She needed to find a way to create a beautiful attraction without subjecting wild animals to captivity.

“I started talking to anyone I could get my hands on who has ever had anything to do with animatronics. I was pretty much told that, ‘this is too hard’, ‘it’s really difficult’, ‘it’s a real piece of engineering artwork’ because they would be in salt water, there’s lots of electronics in there, let alone that they need to be on display for a long time. I couldn’t find anyone.”

Melanie Langlotz via RNZ

Langlotz did find help for the project, super-star help. Roger Holzberg and Walt Conti are known in the entertainment business for their work on animatronics in movies, so they came well equipped. The team created a prototype robot dolphin and began testing, with great results.

Realizing The Future

Imagine visiting your local aquarium and seeing the rarest and most exotic sea-life from around the world, even extinct species. Now imagine jumping in the tank to take a swim with the sharks, without the fear of getting bit! The incredible potential of animatronics is changing how we see more than just aquariums.

“This type of technology doesn’t just have to live in a themed aquarium. If I were to imagine … a sequel to Whale Rider, where we could go into the ocean, this technology would serve that incredibly well. This technology could also serve television, other kinds of storytelling media very well, and other sort of educational means.”

Roger Holtzberg via RNZ

Thanks to hard-working entrepreneurs like Melanie Langlotz the needs of business and conservation efforts are being met as one. Time will tell if regulation and technology can change the tides on animal captivity for future generations.

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