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Mobile game to help save embattled gorillas in the Congo

Mobile game to help save embattled gorillas in the Congo

Mobile game to help save embattled gorillas in the Congo
Jeremy Hance,
April 16, 2008

For mobile users a new mobile game hopes to raise awareness of the plight of the mountain gorilla and funds for their conservation. Silverback takes gamers through eight levels, following the life-span of a gorilla from childhood to adult. The game was originally developed in 2003 by Fauna & Flora International. Ken Banks, creator of, helped develop the game. In 2006 the game was taken off-line where as Banks says it “sat on a virtual shelf, gathering virtual dust”. He has now brought the game back in the hope that it will renew interest, and awareness, in the plight of the mountain gorilla.

It was the recent tragic events in Virunga National Park that led Banks to resurrect the game. The park lies in the embattled Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC has suffered two civil wars in two decades. The last war ended in 2003, yet instability and sporadic fighting continues in the country. Rebels have taken refuge from the government in the park. In 2007 rebels shot five gorillas execution-style to intimidate both park wardens and the DRC government. They left the bodies where they were shot, making it clear that the killings were not done by poachers—who would have sold the bodies for food. Endangered gorillas have not been the only targets by the rebel groups, rangers have also been killed.

Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI (i.e. Fauna & Flora Internatonal)

Currently, the rangers of Virunga have been chased out of the park. A peace deal signed in January was broken in March when the rebels would not allow rangers, as promised, to return to monitor the gorillas. The rebels are currently conducting tourists to visits the gorillas, using the monies to continue funding their rebellion. It is estimated that 380 gorillas live in the Virunga National Park.

Silverback, the mobile game, proved very popular the first time around, and considering the continuing threats to the gorillas of Virunga, Ken Banks felt “the time was right for Silverback to be resurrected”. The game is available for free-download at After downloading, players are asked to donate what-they-wish for the game. Ken Banks says this model was inspired by Radiohead’s most recent business venture: the band released an album on-line which allowed listeners to pay whatever they felt the music was worth. All funds from Silverback will go to Fauna & Flora International’s efforts to save gorillas.

Ken Banks’ organization has long been an innovator of using technology, namely mobile phones, to aid conservation efforts. He describes his most recent effort with Silverback as such: “this is highly experimental and very low-budget, but I’m putting faith in the human spirit that people WILL make donations if they like the game and see value in helping alleviate human and wildlife suffering in this conflict-torn country. This may, or may not work. The important thing is that we try.”

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