Friday is International Orangutan Day, and the Oklahoma City Zoo is marking it with a special occasion: an auction of 20 digitally painted artworks by Elok, the zoo’s 21-year-old orangutan. The works come in the form of NFTs, a type of unique digital collectible, that will be auctioned on the OpenSea NFT platform until noon on August 22.

While several organizations have previously sold NFTs to benefit animal conservation, this appears to be the first time an animal has created digital artwork for an NFT series.

Elok painted the art pieces as an enriching daily activity aimed at keeping him healthy and active. Using a modified paintbrush and an Xbox equipped with a sensor, Elok painted a variety of colors on a digital canvas from his indoor habitat. In return, he received his favorite treats: popcorn, prunes, and animal crackers.

Here’s a digital painting made by Elok that the zoo is holding, but it’s similar to the 20 that will be auctioned on Friday:

Elok, a 21-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the Oklahoma City Zoo, painted a series of NFTs like this one that will be auctioned off Friday to raise funds for animal conservation.

Courtesy of the Oklahoma City Zoo

Elok’s care staff provides him with a daily enriching activity such as puzzles or digging through the hay to stimulate his senses and challenge him mentally. Elok has painted on physical canvas, but this was the first time he tried digital painting, said Tracey Dolphin, curator of primates at the OKC Zoo.

Elok is very creative and likes to use tools, Dolphin said, so despite the challenge, he eventually became interested in the new experience.

“You could see that learning as he went through the process and once he understood that, then he got into it a little bit more,” Dolphin said. wealth.

All three orangutan species, Sumatran, Bornean and Tapanuli, are critically endangered and are at greater risk of extinction due to bushmeat hunting, road construction, agriculture and illegal trade in their native habitats . Globally, 60% of primate species are now threatened with extinction and 75% have declining populations, according to the zoo.

Rebecca Snyder, the zoo’s director of conservation and science, said that since Elok is a Sumatran orangutan, the zoo chose a Sumatra-based charity, the Leuser Conservation Forum, as the first to benefit from Friday’s auction. The funds will directly help preserve the native Elok habitat on the Indonesian island, she said.

“They do patrols in the protected area there, which is important because habitat loss is a big problem for orangutans,” Snyder said. wealth. “This is one of the main reasons they are critically endangered. Even though an area may be designated as protected, that doesn’t mean people don’t still enter those areas and sometimes engage in illegal activities.”

All proceeds from Friday’s auction will be raised by the zoo’s nonprofit, the Oklahoma Zoological Society, which will distribute the money to conservation organizations working to protect wild orangutans and other endangered species.

In February, WWF-UK, a non-governmental organization focused on wilderness conservation, sold a series of photographs of endangered animals as NFTs, but stopped the sale after a day in response to criticism of the energy used in creating the digital tokens. .

The Oklahoma Zoo appears to have decided that the benefits of raising money for primate habitats outweigh the relatively modest environmental impact of creating Elok’s NFTs, which are created on the Ethereum blockchain.

It’s unclear how much money Elok’s work might raise. In recent months, even NFTs from lesser-known artists have reached thousands of dollars, and with a starting price of 0.3 Ether, or about $550, as of Wednesday, the OKC Zoo is hoping their campaign will be just as successful, attracting conservation advocates and art collectors alike.

“Most people won’t get the chance to see an orangutan in the wild, and many people don’t know what’s happening to orangutans and their habitat, or to the other species that share the forest where they live, and our animals are fine . way to introduce people to that and make them care about something that’s happening on the other side of the planet,” Snyder said.

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