Creating Digital Art with Elok the Orangutan

Oklahoma City Zoo

Digital Art Fundraiser for Orangutan Conservation with the Oklahoma City Zoo

Digital Art Made by Orangutans for Conservation

Digital Art Made by Orangutans for Conservation

We approached Oklahoma City Zoo with an idea—since great apes already paint for enrichment, what if we recreated that experience in a digital format? Recently, many collectors of NFTs have started supporting great ape causes, donating to organizations like Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. With its novel approach, this NFT project hopes to take NFTs a step further—the digital art will be created by great apes benefitting great apes. The combination of fundraising and developing enrichment for great apes through the sale and resale of NFTs had to be explored.

The project is novel in its use of fundraising efforts, but using the Kinect and digital enrichment is a burgeoning effort in zoos and academia. Megafauna’s designer, Becky Scheel, created a similar scenario with orangutans at Zoo Atlanta for her master’s thesis at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Art, Technology, and Enrichment

The scenario is created with a Kinect camera that tracks Elok’s paintbrush. With all contact practices with orangutans, Elok is on the other side of a mesh from animal staff. The brush extends through the mesh and is tracked and displayed on a large screen. 

After observing Elok’s painting on canvas, the team tried to replicate his style using similar brush styles created by code. The colors harken to color palettes used by abstract expressionists—Jackson Pollack, Helen Frankenthaler, and Sam Gilliam. 

Elok expressed interest and positive behavior (increased stay time, attention, and receptiveness for the activity on returning day) when interacting with the digital paint enrichment. The process was entirely voluntary and under the supervision of his animal care staff at Oklahoma City Zoo.

Collect Your NFT to Support Great Apes

The twenty-piece Elok collection is available for sale and by auction on Opeseas starting on Friday, August 19, 2020. Net proceeds from the sale will go to the Oklahoma Zoological Society, the non-profit organization that supports the Oklahoma City Zoo. The Oklahoma Zoological Society has allocated from the Elok Collection funds towards international non-profit conservation organizations assisting with wild orangutans and habitat conservation. For more information about this project, visit featuring photos, videos, and answers to frequently asked questions.

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