Great apes, our closest evolutionary cousins, face extinction within our lifetime. All are being decimated by disease, loss of habitat, regional instability, and even consumption as food. Their protection may lie in solutions as different as cell phones and ecotourism.
Cell phones, like many other electronic devices, are built with capacitors, which require tantalum extracted from coltan. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan supply is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the heart of the remaining habitat of eastern lowland gorillas. With an increasing demand for electronics driving a worldwide hunger for coltan, miners in the DRC are polluting and consuming gorilla habitat while extracting the ore. Compounding the problem, miners hunt the apes for food. The situation is grim, and these gorilla populations will go extinct soon without a sustained effort to intervene.