Gorillas, Coltan and Mobile Phones

Gill Lewis, the multi-award-winning author of the amazing animal stories Scarlet Ibis, Moon Bear, Sky Hawk and White Dolphin has been called ‘The principal contemporary writer of animal stories’ by the Telegraph, and her new novel Gorilla Dawn is no exception (‘a thrilling, thought-provoking adventure’ Daily Mail). Here, Gill explains the horrifying reality that inspired her new novel.

Gorilla Dawn was inspired by reading an article that stated in bold letters, your mobile phone is killing gorillas. Unaware of the connection, I read on to discover that needed in the manufacture of nearly every electronic device we use are the minerals; tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. A proportion of these minerals are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the forest home of the eastern lowland gorilla. Many of the mines are under the control of armed groups who terrorise communities and destroy the forests, in addition to poaching gorillas for bushmeat. Political instability and world greed perpetuate the violence and the damage to the environment. Five million people have died as a result of the fighting and it is estimated that less than 10% of the gorillas’ original habitat will remain by 2030. It’s bad news for people and gorillas, and ultimately the rest of the world, as the tropical rainforests drive our weather patterns, regulate global climate and sequester vast amounts of carbon, thus combating climate change. The forest are vital for us all.

IMG_1756I felt there was a story wrapped up with gorillas, people and the landscape. As I researched deeper, I listened to and read testimonials of former child soldiers and of their struggle to reintegrate back into society. It was then that Imara’s voice entered my head. Imara, the main character in Gorilla Dawn is a kadogo, a child soldier. Like all child combatants, she must keep her tears inside. Kindness is a weakness and friendship is forbidden. Imara’s story only revealed itself to me as I wrote. Her past only revealed itself to both of us at the end.

As a consumer of electronic devices, knowing the link between gorillas, people and mobile phones makes me feel uncomfortable. It questions each individual’s responsibility to people and animals affected by the mining of raw materials for electronic products. Our continued use of technology causes the problem, but it also provides the answer too. Our mobile phones and laptops give us a voice; a voice to demand that governments pass laws to ensure fair-trade, conflict-free minerals, a voice to tell electronics companies that we won’t buy their products unless they responsibly source their raw materials and a voice to speak out for those who have no voice of their own.

If you would like to find out more about conflict minerals and how you can add you voice, please visit my website page on conflict minerals and the Congo Calling website.

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 Gorilla Dawn is out now.



Before she could walk, Gill Lewis was discovered force-feeding bread to a sick hedgehog under the rose bushes. Now her stories reflect her passion for wild animals in wild places. She draws inspiration from many of the people she has had the fortune to meet during her work as a vet, both at home and abroad. She lives in Somerset with her young family and a motley crew of pets. She writes from a shed in the garden, in the company of spiders. Visit Gill’s website.