National Geographic Channel announced production of its first virtual reality documentary short film, The Protectors, co-created by Oscar-winning director Kathyrn Bigelow (Last Days, The Hurt Locker) and VR creator Imraan Ismail (The Displaced, Valen’s Reef). The project, according to Nat Geo, will expose the dangerous and grueling reality faced by rangers protecting African elephants from ivory poachers. The 12-minute VR film will be made in partnership with Here Be Dragons (formerly Vrse.works), and Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures.

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Over 30,000 African elephants die each year at the hands of poachers, and despite the global outcry over the killings trafficking continues, says Nat Geo. The biggest key to saving these elephants from extinction are the rangers working on the ground within Africa’s national parks. “The virtual reality film will showcase a day in these rangers’ lives, giving users the chance to experience the dangers that confront them on a daily basis and to be in the presence of the majestic elephants they protect.”

“We want to bring exceptional content that is emblematic of National Geographic to viewers everywhere and are proud to collaborate with the talented Kathryn Bigelow and Imraan Ismail along with Here Be Dragons and Annapurna Pictures on our first foray into the doc short form space using VR technology. This film will take viewers to the front lines alongside Nat Geo storytellers in the hopes that we can change their perception on ivory through this powerful virtual experience,” said Tim Pastore, President of Original Programming and Production, National Geographic Channel.

“I can’t stress enough how we still need to do so much more to fight the devastating effects of the global illegal ivory trade and I made this film to shine a light on the heroic park rangers who are our front line in this battle,” said director Bigelow. “The VR technology is a perfect way to take you into their day-to-day lives and highlight their passion and commitment to the vitally important work they do.”

“The power of virtual reality gives us the chance to take our viewers to the breathtaking yet deadly interior of the Democratic Republic of Congo as we witness and walk in the shoes of these courageous African national parks rangers. To have Kathryn Bigelow taking the helm of this project alongside Imraan Esmail is obviously an exciting and seminal moment for the medium and storytelling in VR,” said Patrick J. Milling-Smith, Producer, Here Be Dragons. “There are no stronger filmmakers to champion these rangers and viscerally show the world their humanity and bravery in the face or such horror.”

The Protectors is produced by Here Be Dragons, Annapurna Pictures and National Geographic Studios for National Geographic Channel. Producers are Patrick J. Milling-Smith, Megan Ellison, and Kathryn Bigelow. For Annapurna Pictures, Matthew Budman, Samantha Scher, and Priya Swaminathan will serve as executive producers. For National Geographic Studios, executive producers are Jeff Hasler and Bengt Anderson. For National Geographic Channel, Matt Renner is vice president of production and Tim Pastore is President of Original Programming and Production.