Mountain gorillas are amongst our closest living relatives, yet they're at risk of being lost forever. With only 1,063 mountain gorillas left in the world, it's no wonder so many wonderful charities like the Gorilla Organization in the UK are on a mission to save mountain gorillas.
So, what does saving mountain gorillas have to do with the smartphone or laptop you're using to read this article?
Your shiny smartphone is actually full of dangerous materials that can seriously damage the environment when they’re thrown away. What’s more, the mining of certain minerals that go into your electronic devices impacts efforts to save mountain gorillas from extinction.
With a genetic makeup that’s almost 98% similar to humans’, the eastern lowland gorilla subspecies who live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are under constant threat of extinction. This situation has been hugely exacerbated by the extensive mining of the metallic ore, coltan, in their native habitats.
And coltan is used in what? Yup, you guessed it: smartphones. Chances are, your smartphone uses minerals from gorilla habitats and to get it, these habitats are being destroyed. These guys are some of our closest relatives and it seems ridiculous that our need to take a sharper selfie is hurting not only them, but the wider ecosystem.
What's more, coltan isn't the only rare mineral used in smartphones - cobalt is also used in smartphone batteries, of which around half the world's production comes from the DRC. Sadly, the mining of these minerals only exacerbates conflict and corruption in the region.
So, what can we do to save the mountain gorillas?
#1 Recycle your smartphone
Rather than chucking it away, recycle your old phone when you’re finished with it. The coltan and other metals within can then be re-used, thus reducing the need to mine in the gorillas’ natural home. It also means that the dangerous materials aren’t just dumped in landfill.
You can use recycling services like Fonebank and receive cash for your phone. Better still, there are lots of charities such as Oxfam in the UK that will be thrilled to receive your old phone, which they can then recycle themselves to raise funds. Program such as the Zoo Atlanta even apply the funds raised to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, so they go directly back into the mission to save mountain gorillas.
#2 Buy refurbished phones
You can get the rush of acquiring something new without it having to be brand-new, so why not opt for a refurbished phone next time you feel like upgrading? They’re well-made and almost as good as new, but miles cheaper. Because you’ve lengthened the lifespan of the phone, you’ve lowered the demand for metals mined in the DRC.
#3 Don’t buy often
Does this need further explanation? The average mobile phone is used only for an average of 20 months. If you want to help save mountain gorillas – or the planet in general – simply buy less often. When you weigh it against the devastating impact it has on these creatures, and others, having the latest iPhone model isn’t that important.
#4 Spread the word
We’re willing to bet that you didn’t know how damaging smartphone production is until recently (perhaps not even until you read this). For example, lots of people want to protect our endangered species, but don’t know about the links between the mountain gorillas and their smartphones. That’s why one of the best ways you can help is to tell more people about it.
Once you tell them, hopefully they’ll tell others, who will tell others, who will tell others again – a ripple effect that could have an incredible impact on our primate relatives. And with 77 million phones kicking around unused in the UK, together we can make a huge impact!
Want to hear some good news about a company creating a conflict-free smartphone? Check out our blog post on Fairphone, the world's most sustainable phone.