Grand Opening of AR Zoo at the Westfield Broward Shopping Center in Plantation, FL
Watching the moment a guest’s eyes go wide and they say, “Wow!” or when they gasp in delight before breaking into a huge smile from ear to ear never gets old. That’s what it’s like to be in our AR Zoos showing people the wild cats in augmented and virtual reality. It’s the reason I like to log into our online security cameras. Just to see people figure out how to download the free, lightweight VidPic AR app, and then their reaction when they point their phones at the huge exotic cat posters on the wall and see them leap to life. We had witnessed the excitement at the Westfield Citrus Park Shopping Center in March and knew then that this is the first step to retrofitting zoos around the world with a much more engaging, immersive learning experience.
We learned from our first AR Zoo and modified the Westfield Broward Shopping Center in Plantation, FL accordingly. We improved the image designs, the messaging and the instructions on how to use the space. A number of Big Cat Rescue AdvoCats have stepped up and agreed to man the space at no cost to the sanctuary, but in their absence, we want to ensure that guests can navigate the process effectively. There is a Ring doorbell installed so visitors can call Holly Kopacz, the AR Zoo Manager, with their questions. This space is also especially good because the entire front of it is open to the main central court of the mall. That makes it much more inviting to people passing by. Glancing in, they hear the forest and cat sounds from the PA system and see 50 of our best videos looping on a large screen TV.
The grand opening, on August 10, at the Westfield Broward Shopping Center coincided with the last weekend of Westfield Walls. There was hardly a parking space left, and the mall was literally packed with customers who came to see the art displays of the “Walls” event. There were street dancers, lots of music, interactive art displays and families were in a festive mood. My throat is still sore from having to yell above the DJ and the music but despite that, Holly and her team of AdvoCats, Corri, Brenda, Eileen, Joann and I were able to guide guests through the process to enjoy the cats in augmented reality.
543 people responded to our Facebook event, saying they were interested in coming and a lot of people who came told me they follow us online or have visited the sanctuary. I don’t know how many hundreds of people came through the space that Saturday, but there were a number of times where all of us were assisting visitors with the app, while Holly’s two daughters, Madyson and MaChaia, dressed up as a lion and a tiger, were handing out Animal Cracker cookies in the new packaging that shows wild animals living free, rather than the old design of animals in cages. In all the people I assisted,BigCatAct.com not one had ever seen this sort of augmented reality technology. I was very happy to see so many people download the app, and then go from poster to poster around the room.
There were so many people having those WOW! moments, that Holly and I were struggling to capture those moments on film; while assisting other guests. There were so many photos and video clips of the way adults and children were positively responding to this immersive technology that we decided to launch an ARzoo Facebook page. You can find it at Facebook.com/ARzooBCR or visit ARzoo.com Be sure to like us and share us there!
Before leaving we made sure everyone got a copy of the Big Cat Times and a flier with all the AR Zoo poster cats so they can show their family and friends. It was interesting to me, to hear the public’s reaction to the space. It seemed like everyone wanted to know what the catch was; were they supposed to pay? Were they supposed to donate? We let everyone know that all we want them to do is to call their members of Congress and ask them to champion the Big Cat Public Safety Act at BigCatAct.com and to NOT support places that breed wild cats for life in cages. I was even more astonished at the number of people who proclaimed they already boycott zoos and other places that breed and exploit big cats. Maybe we are closer to our goal of a world where all wild cats live free.
Press Release 8/8/2019
Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue Opens First Augmented Reality Zoo in South Florida at Broward Westfield Shopping Center, Utilizing Innovative Technology to Change how People View Wild Big Cats
WHEN: Grand Opening – SATURDAY, August 10, from 10:00 am to NOON
WHERE: Big Cat Rescue Experience (located at the corner of Center Court and Food Court)
Westfield Broward Shopping Center
8000 W. Broward Blvd, Plantation, FL 33388
PLANTATION, FL – Big Cat Rescue Experience, the first Augmented Reality (AR) zoo in South Florida is opening Saturday at the Westfield Broward Shopping Center. Thanks to a collaboration between Big Cat Rescue, one of the world’s largest accredited sanctuaries for exotic cats, Westfield Broward Shopping Center and VidPic AR, people in South Florida will now be able to experience wild cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, bobcats, ocelots and caracals like never before. This is just the second AR Zoo in existence; Big Cat Rescue opened the first in Tampa in March 2019.
“Magnificent big cats like lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and cougars belong in the wild – not in cages,” explained Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue. “By using Augmented Reality technology, people in South Florida can experience nature in a far more immersive, educational and fun way, without the cats having to sacrifice their freedom. It’s the perfect intersection of nature and technology.”
Baskin continued, “The traditional zoo model displays wild big cats in cages in an effort for the public to appreciate and want to save them, but during the past 200 years of zoos using that methodology, the populations of wild big cats in Africa and Asia have been decimated to near extinction. Big Cat Rescue believes tigers could be gone in the wild in the next five years. A new way of thinking and better way to engage people with their natural world needs to take place. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality provide those experiences without requiring wild animals to be warehoused in cages in zoos.”
VidPic AR, a technology start-up focusing on innovative messages via AR, utilizes an app that allows people to point their phones at print images and play videos – experiencing all of the sights, sounds, and motion of a video on a mobile app. Visitors to the Big Cat Rescue Experience at Westfield Broward Shopping Center can download the free app and then point their phones at any of the stunning big cat posters on the walls. Guests will marvel as they watch and hear big cats virtually leap off the posters and run, play, swim, eat and bathe in this zoo of the future.
“We’re proud to partner with the team at Big Cat Rescue to use this innovative technology for such an important cause,” said Ron Rudderman, CEO of VidPic AR. “Each interactive image in the exhibit has a story behind it. Big Cat Rescue is using the VidPic AR app to bring those images to life to engage and educate the public and enlist their participation in the protection of these magnificent animals. It’s a fun, magical experience.”
About Big Cat Rescue: Located in Tampa, Florida, Big Cat Rescue is one of the largest GFAS-accredited sanctuaries in the world for abused, abandoned or exploited exotic cats. The sanctuary is home to more than 50 big cats including tigers, lions, leopards, jaguar, cougar and bobcats. An important part of Big Cat Rescue’s mission is to end the abuse and exploitation of captive big cats in America. For more information, visit BigCatRescue.org.