For the past several years, biology students at Liberty have teamed up with Zoo Atlanta and Eco-Cell to recycle cell phones, help the environment, and raise money for gorilla conservation. Zoo Atlanta gives 100% of the proceeds from the donated cell phones to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to benefit gorillas and their habitat.
In 2007, Liberty was named "Silverback Supporters" by Zoo Atlanta for sending in over 200 cell phones donated by students and staff to the Eco-Cell program. As “Silverback Supporters,” Liberty received an original painting by Ivan, the gorilla, from Zoo Atlanta. Ivan has a Pacific Northwest link as he was caged for nearly 30 years in shopping mall in Tacoma. Mall owners donated Ivan to the Woodland Park Zoo in 1994 and he was transferred to Zoo Atlanta shortly thereafter where he thrived until he passed away in 2012 at age 50.
Cell phones have had a direct effect on wild populations of gorillas. A critical material component of cell phones and other small electronics is coltan. One of the few places in the world where coltan is found is the forests of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo—right in the middle of gorilla habitat. As a result of coltan mining, critical habitat has been destroyed and gorillas have been displaced or even killed by poachers. Students learned that by collecting and donating old cell phones they can raise money that will go directly to help these populations of gorillas. Not only do the donations to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International help further their work to protect gorillas, but the recycling of old cell phone materials results in the need for fewer new materials, which reduces the need for coltan mining, which hopefully, in turn, reduces the mining damage to the gorillas’ habitat.
Biology teacher Diane Allen says of the students' dedication, "Our students collected and donated over 200 cell phones from staff and students last year, too. You can bet that they will continue their conservation efforts and they take a lot of pride in their environmental awareness and action."
Pictured: James Workman and Emily Person pose with a ‘thank you painting’ by Ivan, the gorilla, presented by EcoCell and Zoo Atlanta’s Call4Gorillas Partner Program.