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Coltan: the hidden element in all our phones that threatens the survival of gorillas

You may have read about coltan in the press over the past few years or seen something about it on the news. The mineral is mined in the east of the country, amid the habitat of the Grauer’s Gorillas. Grauer’s gorillas are a subspecies of eastern gorillas, the cousins of the famous Mountain Gorillas living in Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo.

Coltan is in all our phones, and concerns over the damage that coltan mining does to people, the environment and the gorillas have been made public for over a decade.

Mining is nearly always damaging to the environment, and coltan is no exception. It leads to water pollution, deforestation and wildlife poaching for bushmeat to feed miners and their families. The coltan mines are also often controlled by rebel groups in Congo, further adding to ongoing insecurity in the country.

Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about is as individuals. Phones are such a core part of our lives now, they have become almost a necessity. There are more ethical choices, such as the Fairphone, but besides that there is little consumers can do except join existing campaigns.

That can be very frustrating, and not just for those of us wanting to be ethical consumers. When I was last in Congo is 2016 working with John Kahekwa, a Congolese Gorilla Expert, Conservationist and great friend, he summed it up well. As we looked out over the wealthy suburbs of Bukavu, the main city close to the Coltan mining areas in Congo, he said, “All these houses are built with money from Coltan. This is the problem in Congo; those who destroy the environment get rich, while we who protect it remain poor.”

Our inspiration for turning Conservation Crisis into an app was to try and put something on our phones that would do good and help to undo the harm caused by the coltan in our phones. Three of our partners support gorilla conservation in the Congo, so funds that we raise for them will be used to help keep the gorillas safe.

And the more people that play the game and become aware of the problems, the more pressure we can place on electronics companies and governments to change the way coltan is mined to make it better for people in Congo, and better for the gorillas and their habitat.


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