Mobile Phones are very useful for human beings but very harmful to Gorillas. The majority of mobile phones contain a black metallic mineral called Coltan which is mined in the Congo, the homeland of endangered lowland gorillas.
What Exactly is Coltan?
Coltan is short for Columbite-tantalite and is used in the electrical capacitors in mobile phones. When Coltan is refined it becomes a heat resistant powder which has unique properties for storing electrical charge and regulating voltage. It can also be found in DVD players, games consoles and a lot of computers. The majority is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo which was formally known as Zaire where many Gorillas live. Coltan is also mined in neighbouring countries Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.
The people that mine the Coltan are a long way from shops and other places where food can be bought so have no option but too illegally poach mountain Gorillas for what they call ‘bush meat.’ Up to 1 million tonnes of bush meat is eaten in the Congo every year and is causing major problems to the Gorilla population. The mining process also pollutes lakes and rivers in the area.
In the past 5 years Gorilla numbers in this area have dropped drastically by as much as 70%. It’s been estimated by the UN Environment Programme that as little as 3000 mountain gorillas now exist in the world. In the Kahuzi Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo where most of the Coltan is mined the gorilla population has been cut in half from 258 to just 130.
In order to help save Gorillas more people should recycle their old mobile phones which will help to reduce the amount of mining that is done in the Congo. There are many mobile recycling sites available online where people can earn up to £300 in cash for their old and unwanted handsets.
Other things that people can do is to continue to put pressure on circuit board manufactures so they only get their Coltan from legitimate sources. Legitimate sources would not include the Democratic Republic of Congo so in the same way that tuna is ‘dolphin free’ mobile phones would be ‘gorilla free.’ Countries that can mine the mineral legitimately include Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and others. It is also possible to create Coltan as a bi-product through tin mining and smelting, this is a much greener option and should be used by more companies more often.