Environmental activists use cell phone ringtones to make nature statement
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: Amid the cacophony of cell phone ringtones these days,
add these: the clickety-click-click of a rare Central American poison arrow dart
frog, the howl of a Mexican gray wolf and the bellows of an Arctic beluga whale.
A U.S. environmental group is hoping that if people hear these sounds from
threatened animals on cell phones, they will wonder where they came from — and
question the fate of the animals and birds that make them.
"The point here is education and inspiration," said Michael Robinson, a
conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity's office in Pinos
Altos, New Mexico.
Like other activist groups, the center is looking to the immediate attention
cell phones can bring to its cause. Already, some 24,000 people have downloaded
the rare rings for free from the center's Web site.
Four in five voting-age Americans have cells phones, and that number is expected
to keep growing. By 2008, as many as 30 percent of wireless users are likely to
forego their land lines and nearly all cell phones will have Internet
capabilities, according to a study by the New Politics Institute.
"With the ringtones, this is the tip of the iceberg," said Peter Leyden,
director of the institute, which studies the impact of cell phones — what he and
others call "mobile media" — on political and social campaigns.
Take for example the efforts of U2 front man Bono. He got thousands of people to
sign up for the ONE Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting global AIDS and
poverty, by asking fans to send a text message during the band's concerts.
Amnesty International also uses text messaging to send action notices to members
around the world.
Peter Galvin, a co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, came up with
the idea for the free ringtones of endangered and rare species as a way to
educate people — especially the younger, technologically savvy generation.
"And with young people, it has to be interesting and it has to be cool," he
In addition to the wolf and the whale, there are ringtones from several species
of frogs from around the world, a few South American birds and North American
The poison arrow dart frog will be added to the list once Galvin gets back from
Panama. He spent three days in the jungle, patiently listening for the calls of
the tiny frog.
It took similar efforts to capture the sounds of other rare animals.
Some at the center say the howl ringtone might be one of the only recordings of
the Mexican gray wolf in the wild. Biologists began releasing wolves on the
Arizona-New Mexico border in 1998 to re-establish the species in part of its
historic range after it had been hunted to the brink of extinction in the early
While the ringtones might be amusing to hear, Robinson said the ringtone is
"We can get people thinking about something outside their immediate world, a
more wilder world," he said.