Skip to Content
The Zoo reopens on Sat, 7/13. Zoo admission will be $7.13 on Sat & Sun + Free Access to Dinos! More Read More
Zoo News Blog

Camp Zoofari Inspires 11 Year-old to Start Cell Phone Recycling Project in Africa, Saving Gorillas in the Wild!

Hi, I am Ainsley Swiger, an 11 year old girl who currently lives in Angola, Africa. I moved here because of my Dad’s job when I was 8 years old. Living here has really changed the way I think about things, especially animals. I have gone on many safari’s all over Africa, and I couldn’t be more thankful for them. It really… inspired me when I moved here. And I want to inspire you.

Every summer and winter break, I visit Houston. The summer before I started 5th grade, I came to The Houston Zoo’s one and only Camp Zoofari. While exploring my favorite zoo we came across a little display about cell phone recycling that Zoo Crew had built. The display had kinetic sand in a big container, with little trees and pieces of tinfoil in it. The Zoo Crew representative started talking about gorillas and cell phones and cobalt, and I just didn’t understand. What is cobalt? How does it involve cell phones? Gorillas kill cobalt? Or the other way around? So. Many. Questions. After recovering from my curiosity spell, they handed me a shovel and told me to find as many pieces of cobalt as I could in a minute. I automatically start digging…but then, it hit me.  “Cobalt is mined in the gorillas habitat…”. Horrified, I immediately started pressing the sand back into place, picking up the little trees, while the rest of the group just tore it all down. A desperate me motioned for my friend to join me and together we pushed and stuck pushed and stuck. That was the longest 30 seconds of my life.

A day or two passed, and I had recovered from the shocking revelation the activity had unearthed. It was like nothing had ever happened. A part of me felt like the experience should have effected me more deeply…but it didn’t, and that wasn’t good.

A month or two later, I was back in Africa and stressing about my exhibition topic for school. Exhibition is a time for the 5th graders at Luanda International School to engage in a collaborative inquiry and display the knowledge and skills they have developed throughout elementary. We have 9 weeks to study an issue or topic, and at the end, we take action on it, and present to the school. It was months before I had to get started, but I was already worrying about what topic to explore. Then my Dad mentioned cobalt. I knew I had heard of that before. I quickly remembered the day at the Houston Zoo and all of the questions I had that day came back to me. How? What? Why? It all flooded my mind like a tsunami. I said calmly that I had heard of it at the Zoo.

This was exactly the kind of project I was looking for! Something scientific and chemical, and environmental, and animal related. I was so excited! So much interesting stuff! I even decided to recreate the Houston Zoo display, but add clay gorillas. I couldn’t wait.


Recycle your cell phones at the Zoo, just outside of Guest Services!

After weeks of research, thinking, and writing my millions of questions, I started taking action. Well, actually I started taking actions. Plural. My original action was to get my school to collect cell phones so I could donate them to the Houston Zoo. I also decided to create a website, the SOS Gorilla Foundation and presented it to the other grade levels at my school. My website includes all kinds of information on cobalt mining, gorillas, how you can help, and more! But I wanted to do more. I wanted to let the Houston Zoo know what I was doing, and I wanted to share what I was doing with all of you. Eventually the idea hit me. I needed to write a blog for the Zoo and get on their website! Several weeks, and many emails later, here we are. I was so excited I nearly screamed when I was offered to make this blog!

I hope sharing my story has inspired you to take action. You don’t need a school project to help you take action – just by reading my blog, and visiting the Zoo you are already helping to make a difference. Now get out there and save some gorillas!