This Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. is during what appears to be a deadly second-wave of the pandemic. It has me thinking a lot about cousins. Never would I have thought that I would have been forcibly deterred from a semi-annual meeting with my cousins. Then when I think about cousins, I think about the distant ones too; how a capitalist pandemic has been causing trouble for my cousins abroad.
A sad contradiction I live. As an owner of an iPhone, I am contributing to strip mining of rare gorilla habitats in the Congo. I love apes; I take their namesake (@chimpsarehungry), I appropriate their culture by adapting to their schedule, and sometimes copying the cool way they walk (on knuckles – it prevents back problems).
Unfortunately, I also contribute to their demise. My own unquenchable desire for the latest tools may affect my far distant cousins. That is iPhones, iPads, Macbook, iWatch and other ape endangering devices. Half of what I write about is advanced technology, artificial intelligence, which require precious metals from African mines.
Map of rare earth mineral mining in the Congo. How some people make a necessary living, but can be detrimental to habitat of Great Apes.
To embody my sad contradiction, I have created an iPhone case with a judgmental chimpanzee on it. All Profits of the sale of ape-related phone-related items
in my store will go to the Virunga Foundation:
“The Virunga Foundation is a non-governmental organisation working in conservation. It is focused on protecting the wildlife in Virunga National Park in partnership with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ICNN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature). Virunga.org
If you want to try to feel slightly better about phones, read Apple's Conflict Minerals Report.
“Apple is also committed to protecting the environment where minerals are sourced. In 2017, Apple announced its goal of, one day, using only recycled and renewable minerals and materials in its products. Across Apple’s product line, an increased amount of recycled materials is being utilized. As Apple makes progress toward this ambitious goal, it continues to strengthen its existing programs to source tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold (“3TG”) and other minerals responsibly. Apple is committed to meeting and exceeding legal requirements and internationally accepted due diligence standards, with the ultimate goal of improving conditions on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) and adjoining countries.”
Here is Samsung’s statement on the same topic:
“We have banned the use of conflict minerals – including tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold – that
are mined unethically in conflict regions. We manage the supply chain based on the
principle of ethical distribution. To ensure that our suppliers are held to the highest
standards, we conduct thorough examinations of the minerals used in their products.”
I hope that helped you feel better as you read these reports from your phone. It didn’t really help me. But I will use them as internal justification for my inevitable device purchases.
Pandemic in Pan troglydytes
Back to the germ pandemic. Human respiratory viruses are already the leading cause of death in chimp communities in Uganda and Tanzania. So the primatology and conservation communities are incredibly worried about another germ entering the circulation. For a long time we have known it is essential to wear a mask when visiting our jungle cousins.
The deaths in the small chimpanzee community followed an “explosive outbreak of severe coughing and sneezing," according to study author Dr. Tony Goldberg, a professor with the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine … it’s now clear that the illness was brought about by exposure to the so-called “rhinovirus C,” a common human cold virus. From: WebMD
In another 2020 horrifying scene this year 12 Virunga Park Rangers were killed by militant poachers. Who knows whether the closures because of the Covid-19 pandemic have allowed poachers more access to the park. Virunga.org has created a Fallen Rangers Fund for their families. Since the start of the ranger program, over 200 have been killed in the service of gorilla protection. True fucking heroes. My shop donated today.
The months-long closure of national parks and continued travel restrictions due to COVID-19 has disrupted a critical revenue source for great ape conservation: sustainable tourism. Countries which rely on tourism as a significant source of their GDP must continue to place biodiversity principles at the heart of recovery efforts, and explore alternative livelihood options for local communities. Where great ape tourism is concerned, conservation must always be the primary goal of any endeavor.
– MongaBay News - Great Ape Tourism During Covid Recession
A piece of good news is that some Gorilla parks are open right now! Kahuzi-Biega park has their COVID precautions listed on the site.
During this time of thanksgiving, think about your cousins. Specifically cousins that branched from your family 5-6 million years ago (ancestor of today’s chimps) or 10 million (ancestor of today’s gorillas). In millions of years from now, your current human cousins may have ended up on different evolutionary path too. Will you be the dominant branch, or the one stuck in a zoo? It doesn’t matter, it’s family that counts. Give your human cousins a virtual hug this thanksgiving, and talk about your shared ancestral ones.