As it Happens

Congo's gorillas and smartphone technology: A deadly link

A report released this week says the population of the world’s largest great ape in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been decimated by war and hunters from small mining operations, who hunt the gorilla for food.
A Gorilla is seen in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (Jonny Hogg/REUTERS)
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A report by the Wildlife Conservation Society released this week says the Grauer Gorilla population in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been decimated by war and mining.

I'm not sure most people are aware what is in their iPad or iPhone or whatever cell phone they use, has parts from Eastern Congo.Andy Plumptre

"It's been quite a shock how much the gorilla's have gone down," Andy Plumptre, Director of Wildlife Conservation Society's Albertine Rift Program, tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

The report by the society estimates the gorilla population has fallen 77 percent in twenty years, from 17,000 in 1995 to 3,800 today.

Plumptre says a major reason for the declining population is small scale mining from local militia groups that are trying to fund themselves through the valuable minerals in the ground.

Many smartphones and tablets contain parts made from minerals mined in the DRC. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

"There's lots of different parts in the Eastern Congo where you can find gold or a mineral called Columbo-Tantalite (also known as coltan), which is used in the production of cell phones and iPads."

Skulls of gorillas who died during the war are kept at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park's headquarters, as a reminder of the devastating impact the conflict has had on eastern Congo's wildlife, as well as the human population. (Jonny Hogg/REUTERS)

Plumptre says the gorillas are hunted as a way to feed the miners, "they're deep in the forest with no other source of food and the miners tend to rely on bushmeat."

Major companies like Nokia and Motorola are not directly involved in the mining, but Plumptre says companies like these do indirectly end up buying them to support the world's gadget obsession.

A Lowland Gorilla (also known as a Grauer's Gorilla) cradles a young gorilla in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (Jonny Hogg/REUTERS)

"I'm not sure most people are aware what is in their iPad or iPhone or whatever cell phone they use has parts from Eastern Congo"

Plumptre says his group is working with conflict-free mining sites to include a provision of being bushmeat-free. He hopes that companies that need the minerals will then be able to have a choice to buy ethically sourced materials.


"It would be great if people could lobby cell phone manufacturers … to try and ensure they're sourcing from areas where hunting isn't going on."

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