This World Rhino Day one of Perth Zoo’s hefty herbivores was immortalised in the digital world.

Bakari our Southern White Rhino has become the world’s first three-dimensional accurate digital model of his species, created by non-profit initiative, Digital Life Project, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the USA.

The Digital Life Project is using technology to give wildlife a helping hand, and just like the perfect ambassador animal he is, Bakari was a memorable subject.

Professor Duncan Irschick, Director of the Digital Life project said: “It’s very special to photo-capture an animal like a rhino because they are a persecuted species, their numbers are declining as they are still hunted for their horns and other body parts.”

“We hope our concept, using 21st century technology, will increase awareness for these animals, their beauty and fragility.”

The interactive imagery Digital Life Project creates can be a useful tool for conservation science and education.

Weighing more than two tonnes, Bakari was the biggest subject Digital Life had worked with. Previous models had included sea turtles, sharks, frogs, reptiles and plants.

“Bakari was great, very well behaved, a very mellow rhino and one of the best subjects we have had,” Duncan said.

“We worked with the Perth Zoo team to ensure we photographed Bakari in a non-invasive way, consistent to how he acts daily, so he was able to feed and move around as he normally would.”

It took Duncan under two hours to capture Bakari’s 360-degree image, with most of that time required for the set-up of 20 cameras arranged around his outdoor rhino night quarters.

A wireless switch was used to take photos from every angle at the exact same time while Duncan also captured imagery on separate cameras. Perth Zoo keepers assisted by taking close-up photos of hard to reach areas such as under Bakari’s belly and feet.  

With photos of every angle and detailed close ups, it was then back to the States where work began with Jer Bot, a talented CGI artist, who worked tirelessly to bring Bakari’s likeness to life, and to ensure that he did so in an accurate way.  Using new innovations in software, Jer Bot was able to use the open-source software Blender to recreate Bakari from the original images.

“One of the projects we are looking at is to use these models to come up with better ways to estimate body mass and body condition of animals in the wild in a non-invasive way,” Duncan said.

“The completed model can also be used in virtual and augmented reality experiences, for 3D printing, to create moulds, statues or casts.”

Check out the video below to see how Bakari’s 360-degree model was captured. Nothing can beat seeing Bakari in real life, but thanks to Digital Life he will continue to be an ambassador for his wild cousins beyond his years.