To help protect endangered animals, British TV channel WildEarth has launched its own NFT. Crucially, 40% of the main sales proceeds go to the local custodians of the land the animals are on. In an exclusive interview with Finextra, WildEarth co-founder and CEO Graham Wallington explained the philosophy behind this approach: nature can take care of itself – it just needs a home. The real mission is to ensure that local people have an economic incentive not to poach.

Unlike blockchain cryptocurrencies, NFTs are non-interchangeable units of data that can be associated with digital files such as photos, video and audio, as well as physical objects. Due to their unique identifiability, NFTs are becoming increasingly popular with wildlife conservationists. Essentially, digital versions of endangered species are tagged as tokens that can be bought and sold on an online marketplace. The proceeds are then remitted back to conservation efforts.

WildEarth recently announced that it has joined the growing number of organizations that are minting conservation NFT, a 24/7 live UK television channel and for-profit nature technology company. In an industry first, the organization's token "WildEarth NFT" allows viewers of the show to become meta-guardians of the animals being filmed.

This project is a landmark start," said Warrington. "It feels great that we can finally put these NFTs on the market."

Initially, WildEarth released the "Genesis Collections," which included 11 leopards, 9 lions and 5 hyenas. Forty percent of every WildEarth NFT sold will be paid to the custodian of the wild habitat in which each animal resides. An additional 8% of each future sale will be converted to local currency and paid to the habitat custodian in perpetuity.

"The royalties generated are paid to the custodians of the land as an incentive to protect wildlife habitat," Warrington noted. "That's what conservation should do. Contrary to intuition, these animals don't need our stewardship – they just need a home. It's the local residents who must be on board. The key is to provide trustees with an alternative source of income to existing sources, such as hunting or tourist hunting."

In fact, lasting conservation projects are those that make it economically feasible to ignore nature. If it pays, it stays.

WildEarth has even considered the environmental impact of the blockchain on which its tokens are minted. For NFT, which claims to have a "green conscience," this is an area that is often criticized – but not for WildEarth.

"One of the biggest challenges is making sure we don't create high-energy NFTs while getting tokens on OpenSea, the largest secondary marketplace," Wallington commented. "Achieving both of these goals is tricky because Ether – where the vast majority of the world's NFTs are currently located – is a very carbon-intensive environment. An NFT on that chain consumes the same amount of energy as the average U.S. household in six days."

To solve this problem, WildEarth chose to use the "Polygon sidechain," which means the tokens are available on OpenSea but consume 100,000 times less energy than the ethereum blockchain. "Casting WildEarth NFT on Polygon is the equivalent of watching our channel for just 10 minutes," Wallington confirmed.

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

"The value of having these NFTs goes beyond finances," Graham said. "What we're trying to create here is a feeling, an experience. By holding a unique NFT for an endangered animal, people can really feel a sense of guardianship over that person – and they can follow the animal's life by watching our TV channel. They can even check in with other NFT owners through our app-based club. This interactivity is the key to protecting the future."

Speculating on the place of NFT in the coming years, Wallington said, "Right now, when people think of NFT, they see boring apes and cryptocurrency punks, but we have to focus on the application of the technology itself. NFTs are an amazing breakthrough in terms of being able to validate real-world assets and make them tradable. In a few years, they could be as ubiquitous as email addresses."

WildEarth NFT is another case study on how the technology is preparing the supply chain for transformation; reshaping the way we handle assets; and, crucially, how we can integrate the natural world into our financial system.