Coltan mining threatens mountain gorillas

The mountain gorillas found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighbouring Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda are incredibly vulnerable animals. The preservation of their natural habitat is the most important factor in protecting the species because without it their extinction is guaranteed.

The vast majority of their natural habitat has been chopped down and made into charcoal or turned into farmland or dug up and mined. Mining is one the biggest industries on the planet and typically it focuses on the precious metals and energy sector such as natural gas, coal and crude oil.

However the mountain gorillas of east Africa have been facing a form of mining that has little if anything to do with energy production. In highly developed countries electronics form a big part of everyday life. We have mobile phones, DVD players, games consoles and a lot of computers.

Coltan miningThese electronic goods all have something in common. They all contain coltan, which is a black metallic mineral from which the element niobium and tantalum is made. It is from these minerals that electronic capacitors are created and are then finding their way into just about every electronic device used today.

Sadly along with other human activity in the region, coltan mining has had a devastating impact on the mountain gorilla population. The mining process pollutes lakes and rivers and isolated miners will often hunt gorillas for their meat.

Gorilla trekking and gorilla safaris have become a vital industry to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. It has created job opportunities, sustainable income and preserves the gorilla’s natural habitat.

Luxury safari lodges in the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda are attracting wealthy eco-tourists which are a significantly growing market and represents a great opportunity for east African mountain gorillas.

At one time it seemed as though coltan mining would rip the ground from underneath the gorilla’s feet but other countries around the world have been increasing the coltan mining and new coltan mines have been identifies in countries such as Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and others.

Sadly though the mining process, wherever it is, will have an impact on local habitats and wildlife. Tin mining and smelting does produce coltan as a bi-product so this is a much greener option which needs to be utilised more often.

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