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A few years ago they were "new toys." The latest darling in the communication market, the cell phone, has become ubiquitous. A friend recently went to see a highly-touted movie. She and other viewers were horrified and angry when a fellow moviegoer carried on a conversation throughout one of the most dramatic scenes. A trip to the mall brought the astonishing scene of groups of people walking together yet conversing to yet other people on cell phones.

September 11 demonstrated how valuable "mobiles" can be. The newspapers are full of advertisements from different communication companies offering plans and phones. More and more people hop on the cell phone bandwagon, yet few realize the implications of this relatively new technology.

An article in the January/February 2002 Wild Bird magazine detailed the ways that cell and other towers have harmed birds. The light attracts migrating birds: "Dozens of other migrants—including tanagers, vireos and thrushes—are soon lured in and begin swirling, tornadolike, around the light, a beacon on a 1,000 foot high communications tower...the birds begin colliding with each other, the guy wires that support the tower, and the tower. Dozens drop to the ground, stunned by their collision or suffering from broken wings or necks."

The article explains that mortality from tower collisions might exceed 5 million birds annually. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided guidelines for placing towers. Hopefully communities will adopt the guidelines. The Communication Tower Working Group includes representatives from industry, academia and the conservation community is in the process of developing and implementing a national research protocol to determine what causes birds to collide with towers and what can be done to minimize mortality.

David Hauenstein kindly sent me an article from the June 25 2001 New York magazine. According to researchers affiliated with the Bronx Zoo who are based in the Congo, cell phones are harmful to elephants, okapis and gorillas.

How? A mineral called coltan is refined into a heat-resistant material used in all kinds of products from VCRs to Palm Pilots. This mineral is also used in cell phones and so is in great demand. The article said, "Most of the world’s coltan comes from Australia, but Congo is also rich in the mineral...Miners camped out in the parks have been slaughtering animals for food...estimates (are) that thousands of elephants and gorillas have been slaughtered in one preserve…Manufacturers have denounced the conditions in Congo. ‘The wireless manufacturers have begun demanding assurances from their suppliers certifying that the coltan being used to develop cell phones and PDAs is not being mined illegally,’ says Jay Kitchen, president of the Personal Communications Industry Association. But the complex and murky supply chain often makes it all but impossible to know for sure…"

So what’s the answer? Become a Luddite and destroy all symbols of modern technology? Hardly! We need to be aware that our fast-paced existence and fun "toys" have a price far greater than the charge on the VISA card.

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