Topper White uses old cell phones to help track illegal logging activities in the forest.

Topher White is an inventor, physicist, and engineer. And he’s not joking when he says that old cell phones can save the forests

It all began in 2011 when White went to the forests of Borneo to save Gibbons. His first time. The overwhelming sounds of the forest caught his attention. And something else did too. Amidst the sounds of hornbills, cicadas, and Gibbons he also heard the sound of chainsaws

We are losing our rainforests to illegal logging, which amounts to 50 to 90 percent of logging activities in the forests worldwide. “There’s a lot of sincere people out there who are trying to fight deforestation, but it’s not easy to know where it’s (illegal logging) happening at all times. And having real-time knowledge of this is pretty important,” says White in the National Geographic Live Series.

If people can catch the sounds of illegal logging, even remotely, it can help stop the loggers, thought White. And this is what he did next: He got some cell phones, put them in a box for protection against the elements of nature, attached  a powerful microphone and some solar panels too (to ensure that the phones stayed powered) and hung the whole contraption high up on the trees.

And he hoped that the moment the chainsaw goes hacking deep in the forests, the phone would pick up the sounds of illegal logging activity and alert the local authorities or Rangers who can then rush to save the trees and catch the culprits.

Did it work? Of course, it did. He did a test run in the forests of Sumatra, and the loggers were stopped.  And if you are wondering about the cell phone reception in the forest, White will let you know that it “isn’t bad at all. You can pick up a signal from pretty far away,” he says. Since most of the people working in these forests and the people living in the bordering villages use cell phones, the signals are pretty good.

White’s invention has been employed in the forests of Ecuador, Brazil, and more than 20 countries and the demand is ever increasing.

Phones and trees — who would’ve thought 🙂