The project was developed by Sheffield artist Paul Evans who said he hoped it would “help send out a few important and very positive messages” in the lead up to the COP26 meeting of world leaders which starts on Sunday.
The Virtual Ark was produced in conjunction with Frozen Ark, a biobank based at Nottingham University, which stores frozen genetic material from endangered species.
Prof Mike Bruford, Director of the Frozen Ark, said: “The ‘Virtual Ark’ is an amazing initiative that will help get the message out to young people, who hold the key to the future of our planet and its biodiversity.”
It features five endangered species, four of which were chosen by public vote and the other by Frozen Ark. The five were then made into models of brightly coloured Neoplast, which is similar to plasticine, before being captured by photogrammetry at Human studio, in Park Hill, Sheffield, and rendered in 3D for their place within the virtual reality of the ark.
Writer Rowena Sommerville, who is based in Robin Hood’s Bay, worked with writing groups across the north to add words and poetry to the virtual experience.
The project was something of a labour of love for Mr Evans who has long held a passion for animals and environmental issues. He described working with the Frozen Ark team as “a dream collaboration.”
He said: “I've learned so much from conversations with the scientists and I can't express how much they are dedicated to the field of conservation and saving animal species - they really love the animals that they study, love has grown out of knowledge."
The five endangered species chosen for the Virtual Ark are the Great Yellow Bumblebee, the Long-beaked Echidna , the European Hedgehog, the Polar Bear and the Partula tree snail, which was chosen by Frozen Ark.
The impact of climate change has been stark with thousands of species threatened with extinction.
Mr Evans said: "There are many reasons for this, from rising water levels on tropical islands that will literally drown their rare and unique animal inhabitants, to melting sea ice that is preventing polar bears from hunting for the seals that they depend on for prey.
"As an artist I see this, quite frankly, as a crime against nature, a crime against millions of years of evolved complexity and beauty."
He added: “But in the lead up to COP26, we hope that our ark will help send out a few important - and very positive - messages about the deeply heartfelt connection between humans and animals, especially the importance of this connection for our children and some important conservation messages that we can all listen to and learn from.
"We also think it offers a timely ray of hope - hope for the future reintroduction of threatened species at such a time when we can ensure their safety in the wild."