New game helps kids be wildlife-friendly tech consumers

Zoo's summer questing game highlights impact of personal electronics on wildlife

Cell phones, laptops and other such devices are a way of life in our modern world — chances are you're reading this on one now. But there's a hidden cost to all this connectivity and convenience: the production, use and disposal of personal electronic devices can be devastating to wildlife around the world, damaging habitats and exposing people and animals to hazardous materials.

Starting July 1, the Oregon Zoo's volunteer Zoo Ambassadors will guide visitors through a new summertime activity called Zoo Quest, highlighting the connection between animals and electronics while suggesting ways to help.

Zoo Quest is inspired by other popular questing games and similar to treasure hunting or geocaching. After picking up a "passport" at a station near the zoo entrance, questers follow a series of rhyming clues leading to six additional stations throughout the zoo.

A Zoo Quest sign — and in most cases a volunteer Zoo Ambassador — at each station will help questers answer questions and get their passports stamped, eventually earning a sticker upon completion. The game is suitable for families with children ages 6 through 12, and provides a new way for visitors of all ages to explore the zoo.

"A lot of zoos talk about recycling when it comes to personal electronics," said Jennifer Payne, the zoo's volunteer and youth programs manager. "But few talk about the impacts from producing and using these products."

Some of the Oregon Zoo's most beloved residents — including chimpanzees — are threatened by the demand for minerals used in electronics, such as coltan. Fragile forest habitats are often cleared to construct mining sites and their networks of camps and roads. Animals found near mines also become easier targets for poachers and bush-meat hunters.

"We're not saying people shouldn't have cell phones, but we hope some folks might at least think about delaying the purchase of new electronics to help wildlife," Payne said.

The Zoo Quest activity was organized in collaboration with waste-reduction educators from Metro's sustainability department.