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How are Cell Phones and Gorillas Connected?

Hello from the Gorilla Care Team! My name is Cassie, and I am currently a Gorilla Keeper here at Zoo Atlanta. I have had the honor of working with gorillas for over eight years now, so naturally they are one of my favorite animals. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is sharing with the public not only why I love them so much, but why they should as well, which in turn may inspire them to do what they can to help save their wild cousins.

What if I told you that there is something that 97% of the U.S. population owns and uses each and every day that directly affects gorilla populations in the wild? What could this thing possibly be, you ask? If you guessed a cell phone, you would be correct! Those handy devices we have come to rely on for an embarrassing number of things in our daily lives has a mineral inside of it which is primarily mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is right in the middle of gorilla habitat.

Coltan, a metallic ore, is a major component of cell phones and other electronic devices. This is what allows our devices to hold a charge, something we can all admit is essential for daily life. It comes as no surprise that this mineral is in extremely high demand as humans become more and more reliant on technology, especially if we can hold it in our hands. Electronic waste has a massive impact on the planet, more so than any other consumer product. A lot of energy, resources, and materials go into making these gadgets. Unfortunately, not only is much of this particular mineral found in gorilla habitats, but it is also considered a conflict mineral, which means the mining of coltan and other desirable materials have funded wars in this war-torn country. In turn, this also means that mining is considered one of few profitable sources of income.

Aside from the humanitarian issues the region is facing, the mining for coltan and other desirable materials is also destroying the ecosystem. Critically endangered gorilla populations are being decimated as their habitats are destroyed to allow for mining, and poachers are hunting them for the commercial bushmeat trade. The loss of habitat isn’t just limited to gorillas; hundreds if not thousands of other species call the same area home as well.

But there are several ways YOU can help, and it’s as simple as recycling your old devices that have probably been forgotten in a junk drawer or old shoe box. That’s right, by recycling your old devices, it reduces the demand to mine more coltan, thus slowing down the destruction of native gorilla habitats. Zoo Atlanta, along with numerous other zoos across the country, has partnered with a company called Eco-Cell whose mission is to reduce electronic waste and help save gorillas in the process. Eco-Cell refurbishes any useable devices or parts they receive and recycles anything left over. Another easy way to help is to simply use the phones or devices you have until they are considered obsolete, instead of upgrading every two years like cell phone companies encourage us to do. And for all those youngsters out there who want to get in on the action, try setting up a cell phone drive with your school class or Scout group!

Cell phones aren’t the only devices accepted by Eco-Cell. Tablets, MP3 players, Apple/Android watches, GPS systems, E-readers, digital cameras, and handheld gaming systems can be recycled as well. Electronics recycled through this program do not need to be in working order, and any type of cellphone is accepted, even those old Nokia or Blackberry phones that you don’t know what to do with! I encourage you to check out Eco-Cell’s website at www.eco-cell.com to learn more about this amazing program and the amazing things they are doing to help gorilla conservation. If you have old devices you’d like to recycle, they can be sent to Eco-Cell directly or brought to Zoo Atlanta and dropped off at the front gate or in the Eco-Cell drop box at The Ford Willie B. Gorilla Conservation Center at Gorilla

Habitat 3. While you’re here, be sure and check out our resident gorilla family group, including little Floyd! If you aren’t local to the Atlanta area, check out Eco-Cell’s website for a full list of dropoff locations throughout the U.S. I hope you’ll consider this program and gorillas when the time comes to upgrade your devices, and remember how important the simple act of recycling can be!

Cassie M.
Keeper III, Primates

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl