How Recycling Electronic Devices Can Help Save Gorillas

The Houston Zoo is informing visitors how recycling electronics like old laptops, tablets and gaming devices can help save declining gorilla populations.


Gorilla Family
Zuri, a male western lowland gorilla © Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams

Sophia Kubin and her two sons couldn’t wait to see the gorillas at the Houston Zoo.

“Well every time we drive by 59, there’s been a big billboard with a countdown to when they’re opening up the silverback gorilla exhibit, and so the boys will tell me, ‘oh, 39 more days, 38 more days,’” Kubin says.

As the family watches the animals forage around the exhibit, Kubin says it was worth the wait. But asides from getting an up-close look at the gorillas, zoo staff also gave them a lesson in conservation. Much of the animals’ natural habitat is being destroyed to mine for coltan. Kubin was surprised to learn that the mineral found in African rainforests is used in so many electronics, and recycling them can reduce the demand for mining.

“These earphones, these Bluetooths, these upgrades in cell phones, they just get thrown in drawers and they’re just sitting there,” she says. “Why not go ahead and donate them?”

Several visitors stopped by the information booths and recycling bins set up around the exhibit. It’s been 11 years since the zoo has housed the animals. Conservationists hope bringing them back will increase awareness of their declining populations.

Molly McMinn is an intern with the Houston Zoo. She greeted visitors and informed them of how they could help.

“One of the coolest ways for people to learn, even if they don’t realize they’re learning is by interaction,” McMinn says. “When you can see the animals up close, seeing how amazing this creature is, and saying ‘I can help gorillas on the other side of the world,’ I think that really gets people involved.”

The exhibit houses seven western lowland gorillas. The zoo is participating in a Species Survival Plan, a program designed to manage the breeding of endangered animals. They’re also partnering with organizations in Africa to protect the animals in the wild. 


Tomeka Weatherspoon

Tomeka Weatherspoon

Senior Producer

Tomeka Weatherspoon is an Emmy-award winning producer. She produces segments, the weekly television program Arts InSight, the short film showcase The Territory and a forthcoming digital series on innovation. Originally from the Midwest, Tomeka studied convergence journalism from the world’s first journalism school at the University of Missouri. She has...

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