Empire State Building Shines Light on Endangered Species With Projection Show; Cecil the Lion Memorialized Too

The landmark Empire State Building, known for its stunning light displays, shined brightly with digital light projections of the world’s endangered species Saturday evening. The show was billed as a first-of-its-kind live video projection and aimed to raise awareness about animals at risk of being lost forever.

The display, a project conceived by “The Cove” filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, showed a looping reel of endangered animals over a 33-floor span of the southern face of the Empire State Building. In all, 160 species were shown, including a snow leopard, golden lion tamarin, birds, snakes, manta rays, and various mammals and sea creatures.

"We're set to lose half the species on the planet by the end of the century," Psihoyos said at the event.

At one point an image of Cecil -- a beloved lion in Zimbabwe that was shot and killed by a U.S. dentist during an allegedly illegal hunt in July -- was shown on the building. The killing sparked off a social media firestorm and led to calls for the hunter's extradition. Coincidentally, the uproar gained international attention just days before the light show.

"There's only 3,500 wild male lions out there. The gun lobby keeps them from being on the list but they are endangered," Psihoyos said. "Cecil -- I mean what a -- at least there are other lions left. I've photographed some species where it's the last male of a species, like the Rabbs' Fringe-limbed tree frog."

The song "One Candle" played as the projections glowed on the iconic midtown building.

"What bigger candle could you light up?" Psihoyos said. "Look at it -- it looks like a candle." 

The images were displayed using 40 20,000-lumen projectors stacked on the roof of a building on West 31st Street.

The projections, which started at 9 p.m., were set to last for three hours. They were clearly visible to anyone within 20 blocks downtown of the Empire State Building. Below 14th Street, they were visible, but not as clearly. 

Psihoyos’s Oceanic Preservation Society, in collaboration with Travis Threlkel’s Obscura Digital, have been producing the elaborate light shows for four years to draw attention to the rapid rate at which species are dying out.

Saturday's display was also intended to publicize the filmmaker's documentary, "Racing Extinction," which is scheduled to air on Dec. 2 on the Discovery Channel.

-- Liz Borod Wright contributed to this story. 

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