Help save environment and a few bucks, too

My husband and I stood for quite awhile outside the gorilla enclosure at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park during our visit there last month. We were fascinated by members of the gorilla troop’s interactions with one another.

Six-year-old Leslie, the youngest, was especially entertaining as she scrambled through the large green and rocky setting, swatting at another young female, Joanne, with a tree branch and hiding in a hammock to further taunt her.

As Leslie darted throughout the enclosure, she also whipped a blanket that a safari park volunteer said belonged to the youngster’s father, Winston, gorilla troop leader there. Winston, 52, apparently does not like to sit directly on the ground, so zoo workers regularly provide him with carpets and blankets.

That could have something to do with Winston’s upbringing.

He came to the zoo at 12 after living at a wealthy home in England. His owners had paid for the capture and transport of a baby gorilla from the Congo in the early 1970s, triggering a horrible scenario in which his family was slaughtered so he could be captured and brought to his new home to be raised by humans.

Some 12 years later, his owner donated Winston and a large collection of other primates to the San Diego Zoo.

While Winston never again will roam in the wild, at least he and his new family now live a good life receiving excellent care.

Sadly, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance reports illegal pet trade is on the rise again. Behind each infant gorilla caught by poachers, several gorilla family members often are killed, just like Winston’s family.

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance operates long-term field programs in Central Africa focusing on behavior and habitat of primates in mountainous rainforests.

Gorillas, the largest of all primates, are intelligent, peaceful, family-oriented, plant-eating animals. They have no natural enemies nor predators, yet they are critically endangered because of humans invading their habitat, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. People hunt gorillas for food, called “bushmeat,” and epidemics like Ebola virus have decimated gorilla populations. Hunters targeting other mammals also often kill or maim gorillas accidentally. Gorilla population size has dramatically declined in the last 15 years, with almost half of the entire eastern gorilla population suspected to have been wiped out.

While there is little we can do about some of these threats to gorillas, there are ways we can help curb other risks to gorillas brought on by logging and mining companies destroying habitat.

Minerals of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold originate in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated $24 trillion in the untapped mineral resources remain. Still, the country is mired in poverty and violence. Mining these four metals can help fund armed conflict in the region. Further, these mines are located in gorilla habitat, and primates often are displaced or slain in order to do the mining work.

All these metals are integral to consumer electronics, including the smartphones in our pockets. African countries, intergovernmental organizations and companies have ramped up efforts to clean up mineral supply chains, but it’s impossible to know if minerals in your electronic devices are fully conflict-free, or if mines where they originated are dangerous, environmentally destructive or use child labor, CNBC reports.

Now, thousands of illegal miners have invaded protected parks. Needing food, they have hunted gorillas and elephants to near extinction in these areas.

Also, a high percentage of the minerals mined go to Chinese-based companies. China has not participated in the efforts to ensure mining is done humanely and without harm to the environment, including gorilla habitat.

Today cobalt mining in Congo is ramping up. Cobalt is used in the production of electric vehicle batteries.

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, along with Eco-Cell, a cellular phone recycling company, urges recycling of old cellphones. Not only does this recycling effort keep cellphones, chargers and old batteries out of landfills, it also reduces demand for mined minerals, one phone at a time.

The easiest suggestion on how you can help is simply trade in your phone when getting a new one. It’s good for the planet, and it might save you a few bucks, too.

If he could, I’m sure Winston would thank you.


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