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WildEarth NFTs show conservation is about supporting people as much as wildlife

WildEarth NFTs show conservation is about supporting people as much as wildlife

In a bid to help protect endangered animals, British TV channel, WildEarth, has launched its own NFTs. Crucially, 40% of the primary sale proceeds go to local custodians of the land on which the animals live. In an exclusive interview with Finextra, Graham Wallington, co-founder, CEO, WildEarth, explained the philosophy behind this approach: nature can look after itself – it just needs a home. The real mission is to ensure local populations have an economic incentive to not poach.

Unlike blockchain cryptocurrencies, NFTs are non-interchangeable units of data that can be associated with digital files such as photos, videos, and audio, as well as physical items. Due to their uniquely identifiable nature, NFTs are becoming increasingly popular with wildlife conservationists. Essentially, digital versions of an endangered species are tagged to a token, which can be bought and sold in online marketplaces. Proceeds are then funnelled back into preservation efforts.

Recently announcing it had joined the growing group of organisations that are minting conservation NFTs, is WildEarth - a 24/7 live British TV channel and purpose driven for profit nature technology company. In an industry first, the organisation’s token, ‘WildEarth NFT’, enables the show’s viewers to become meta-custodians of the animals being filmed.

“This project has been a monumental exercise to get off the ground, said Wallington. “It feels great that we can finally put these NFTs on the market.”

Initially, WildEarth is releasing the ‘Genesis Collections’, which is comprised of 11 leopards, nine lions and five hyenas. Exactly 40% of every WildEarth NFT sold will be paid to the custodian of the wild habitat that each animal lives. A further 8% of every future sale will be converted into local currency and paid to the habitat custodian, forever.

“The royalties generated are paid to the land’s custodians as an incentive to conserve the wildlife habitat,” noted Wallington. “That is what conservation should be about. Counterintuitively, the animals do not need our management - they just need a home. It is the local populations that must be on board. The key is to build an alternative revenue source to the existing ones available to the custodians, such as hunting or tourist safaris.”

Indeed, long-lasting conservation projects are those that make it economically viable to leave nature alone. If it pays, it stays.

WildEarth has even thought about the environmental impact of the blockchain its tokens are minted on. This is frequent site of criticism for NFTs that claim to have a ‘green conscience’ - but not for WildEarth:

“One of the biggest challenges was ensuring we weren’t creating high energy NFTs, while at the same time getting the tokens on the biggest secondary market, OpenSea,” commented Wallington. “Fulfilling both goals was tricky because Ethereum - which is where the vast bulk of the world's NFT's currently sit - is a very carbon intensive environment. One NFT on that chain can consume the same amount of energy that an average the US household does in six days.”

To get around this, WildEarth chose to utilise the “Polygon sidechain”, which means the tokens are available on OpenSea, but the energy consumption is 100,000 times less than that of the Ethereum blockchain. “Minting a WildEarth NFT on Polygon is the energy equivalent of watching our channel for just 10 minutes,” confirmed Wallington.

By Q4 2022, WildEarth aims to provide each NFT owner with access, via a mobile app, to video, images, anecdotes, and information on the movement of their animals over time. On top of this data, the app will enable NFT owners to chat amongst themselves and form exclusive clubs with other wildlife-conscious token enthusiasts.

“The value of people owning these NFTs goes beyond the financial,” said Graham. “What we're trying to create here is a feeling, an experience. By holding a unique NFT for an endangered animal, people get a real sense of custodianship for that individual - they can follow the animal's life by watching our TV channel. They will even be able to check in with other NFT owners via our app-based club. This interactivity is key to the future of conservation.”

Speculating about the place NFTs will hold in the coming years, Wallington said: “Right now, when people think of NFTs they see bored apes and crypto punks, but we must focus on the applications of the technology itself. In terms of being able to authenticate real world assets and make them tradable, NFTs are a phenomenal breakthrough. In a few years, they may be as ubiquitous as email addresses.”

WildEarth NFTs are yet another case study on how primed the technology is to transform supply chains; reshape how we handle assets; and, crucially, how we bake the natural world into our financial systems.

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