Answer the Call – Gorillas are on the Line

Grab your cell phone (if it’s not already in your hand) and go to your most recent calls. Scroll through your list. How many calls did you receive? How many minutes did you spend talking? What about texts – how many have you sent today? What if I told you, that every time you grab your phone, whether it be for a call, a text or to browse your social media accounts, you’ve held the fate of a gorilla in the palm of your hand?

A little heavier than you thought? The topic – not the gorilla. While gorillas can weigh upwards of 500 pounds, a cell phone typically only weighs about 4 ounces. But the actual weight of this issue is so much larger than what can be measured with a scale.

While materials like plastic, nickel, copper and zinc are common in most cell phones, there’s one rare and valuable mineral, coltan, in all cell phones and small electronics that directly impacts the survival of gorillas. Eighty percent of the world’s supply of coltan is found in Central Africa, which is prime gorilla habitat. Imagine having the cell phone equivalent of gold in your backyard. There would be a lot of people showing up at your house with shovels in their hands and dollar signs in their eyes. That’s the situation for coltan and the gorillas.

Coltan is luring miners into the forests, which causes trouble for these animals. Their habitat is becoming logged and dug up so the miners can reach the coltan, and people are bringing in diseases, which the gorillas can easily contract. People are also illegally hunting gorillas – either to eat, sell or trade for more supplies. The more cell phones people buy, the more coltan needs to be mined, and more gorillas are becoming homeless. With their numbers dwindling in the wild as it is, let’s work together to save them.

The Detroit Zoological Society is partnering with other accredited zoos within the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to launch a cellphone recycling program from February 1 through April 30. Our collective goal is to gather 10,000 mobile phones and engage 10,000 children and community members to help save gorillas. In addition to mobile phones, we will also accept iPads, iPods, cameras, chargers, etc., because they, too, contain coltan.

Fewer than 20 percent of old cell phones are recycled. So, whether yours are collecting dust in the garage or in a junk drawer somewhere in your house, consider bringing your old phones and electronics to the Detroit Zoo during the next three months. Donation bins will be set up at the Main Entrance; you can also deliver them to the guest relations associates manning the ticket booths. We’re also looking for local schools to join us in this venture and make a direct impact on saving species. If your school or classroom is interested in helping us protect gorillas, you can email cvankampen@dzs.org. Also, mark your calendar for our World Gorilla Day celebration at the Detroit Zoo on Tuesday, September 24.

– Aaron Jesue is a zookeeper for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Education: Making Less Harmful Choices

Every day we make choices. We decide what to wear, what to eat and which products to use. Each of these actions has an impact with implications we may not immediately think about.

We can consider the impact of our decisions by exploring two questions:

  • What are the effects of this item or activity on animals?
  • Are there any alternatives that may be less harmful or even provide some benefit?

As an example, let’s take a moment to explore coltan. You might not even be aware of its existence, but you likely use it on a daily basis. Coltan, an ore, is an essential component of our smart phones and many other electronic devices that we use, including laptops and game consoles. Unfortunately, the mining of coltan is having devastating effects on the habitat of endangered gorillas and other wildlife living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). While it is mined in different areas of the world, a good portion of the world’s reserves are found in and around the DRC.

So what can we do? We can’t avoid using it, but here are a few things to consider:

  • Pass on the opportunity to get a free upgrade unless your cell phone is no longer in good working order
  • Opt to fix your electronics, if possible, rather than buy new
  • Consider buying refurbished electronics
  • Always responsibly recycle your electronics so that the coltan can be used again

When we take a moment to examine the products we’re purchasing, it enables us to make the best choice possible for people, animals and the planet. This enables us to make knowledgeable decisions on how to walk softly and treat the Earth’s creatures gently. Every action we take to help the Earth and its inhabitants is something to be celebrated!

– Lisa Forzley is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.