Images of Endangered Animals Will Be Projected onto the Empire State Building This Weekend

The callous murder of Zimbabwe’s beloved Cecil, the lion, has cast the plight of endangered species across the internet.


But this Saturday night, that plight will be cast offline in a new way as well, as digital projection mapper Travis Threlkel and filmmaker/photographer Louie Psihoyos collaborate to project massive images of the world’s most majestic endangered animals onto the face of New York City’s Empire State Building.

“We’re going to try to create something beautiful, not bum people out,” says Threlkel, adding that “hopefully, this is one big domino. If we can tip it, it would be great.”

Twenty thousand projectors will be used to showcase a looping reel of animals from 9pm to 2am, covering 33 stories of the iconic building’s facade. It’s the second collaboration between the two; in 2011, Psihoyos, who directed the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” hired Threlkel’s San Francisco company to create elaborate light shows to help draw attention to the alarming rate at which species are dying on behalf of the Oceanic Preservation Society.

The Empire State Building was chosen not only for its global status, but also because it was named one of New York’s most sustainable buildings in 2009. It’s also not the first time the building was used to draw attention to animal rights – in 2011, the top of the skyscraper flashed shades of red to symbolize the dolphin slaughter that was the focus of Psihoyos’ “The Cove.”

The timing – on the heels of Cecil’s death, as well as a recent announcement by President Barack Obama in Kenya that we need to combat the ivory trade – was purely coincidental. The project has been in limbo for three years and only came to fruition after television producer Norman Lear used his personal connections with the mayor’s office to gain approval.

The message, of course, will reach far beyond Manhattan.

“The whole planet could be on the same page for once; anybody with a cellphone or computer would know about it,” says Psihoyos. “To create a tipping point, you probably need 10 percent of the population. With the film and this event, we are trying to reach that number. If you hit that number, then you have a chance of moving the needle.”