Old cell phone + recycling = gorilla conservation?

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Perplexing as it may be, according to Michelle Stancer, an Animal Care Manager at the San Diego Zoo, recycling old cellular devices really can make a difference.

Paul Donn, a silverback male at the Zoo.

The San Diego Zoo is home to ten lowland gorillas- a family group of five, one of four and a bachelor male. These gorillas are allowed into the viewing enclosure in cycles, always ensuring that the family groups remain intact. The reason behind keeping some separated from others lies in the gorillas’ natural behaviors. In the wild, gorillas form a patriarchal band that consists of one silverback male, several females and their offspring. The zoo mimics this behavior by keeping distinct groups together and ensuring that only one silverback resides over the group of females.

So how do cell phones relate to all this? In addition to poaching and the bushmeat trade, habitat destruction is a critical threat to wild mountain gorillas. One aspect of habitat destruction comes from the clearing of land to create cobalt mines. Cobalt is an essential element in most phone batteries and thus has a huge demand worldwide. Instead of holding onto an old cell phone or leaving it in a landfill, one can make a difference by recycling their old phones and thus eliminating the need for new cobalt mines. Simple aspects such as recycling have profound effects on preserving a species. And this concept doesn’t just end at cell phones.

Palm oil is a popular ingredient nowadays, ranging in use from a baking ingredient to the base for a new biodiesel. It is often used as a replacement for canola oil and is typically given an image of attempting to create a more sustainable planet. However, its popularity proves deadly for orangutans.

The majority of orangutans are found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, both of which are hotspots for palm oil plantations. The issue arises due to the fact that the orangutan’s natural habitat is being destroyed to make room for the more “economically friendly” palm oil plantations. These palm oil plantations not only contribute to a significant reduction in biodiversity but are also responsible for an enormous decline in orangutan populations. By paying closer attention to ingredients on a product one is buying, supporting detrimental palm oil plantations can be avoided.

Living in San Diego, I often feel as if the survival of these species is out of my hands- as if there is little I can do to make any significant impact on their conservation. However, I learned there are many things I can change that make a difference despite being nearly 9000 miles away. By digging a bit deeper into the reasons why habitat is being destroyed and becoming more conscientious to how they relate back to me, I then hold the power to decide how I can use this to better the lives of the threatened species. Simple aspects such as cell phone recycling and awareness of ingredients hold the potential to save these animals. Little things do count.

Kristina, Conservation Team