African great apes threatened by mining

Mining leads to deforestation and destruction of natural habitats of great apes and other species, affecting their populations.

Raw materials obtained from mining activity such as lithium, nickel and cobalt are currently used to produce a variety of technological products. New research shows that more than a third of the continent's gorilla, bonobo and chimpanzee populations face risks related to mining.

Mining in Africa is expanding to generate resources and produce everything from electronics to aircraft engines and even large-scale transitions to cleaner energy. This practice leads to deforestation and destruction of natural habitats of great apes and other species, affecting their populations.

A study published in the magazine Science Advances confirms that the consequences for these living organisms are more serious than previously thought.

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Direct and indirect impacts of mining on great apes in Africa. / Gabriele Rada / iDiv

"We document the greatest spatial overlap between mining areas and key monkey areas in West Africa.
Particularly in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinea, where areas have high densities of chimpanzees and overlapping exploitation, including population quarantine zones within 10 and 50 km
." reports Jessica Junker of the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Other institutions leading this work are the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany and the environmental non-profit organization Re:wild.

For example, Guinea is the country with the greatest overlap between mining projects and chimpanzee habitat, which will directly or indirectly affect more than 23.000 individuals, with a potential impact on up to 83% of Guinea's chimpanzee population.

Across Africa, more than a third of all great ape species (nearly 180.000 gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees) are estimated to be threatened.

Direct and indirect influence on great apes

The team used data from active and pre-mining sites in 17 African countries and plotted 10km distances to calculate direct impacts such as habitat destruction and light and noise pollution.

In addition, they have identified an additional 50 km of indirect impact areas considering increased human activity near these mining operations: new roads and infrastructure are being built to reach areas that were once inaccessible and many people are migrating to find work. .

All of these activities increase pressure on great apes and their habitats through increased hunting, habitat loss, and increased risk of disease transmission.

By combining all the great ape density data, the researchers looked at how many people could be negatively affected by mining and mapped these areas.

In general, the most sensitive areas with relatively high great ape densities and mining activity are not protected. “One of our biggest challenges is that we don't always know which species are affected by these projects because their impacts are not always well documented. Therefore, we encourage mining companies to keep records of the plant and animal species present in the affected area before mining and to monitor them periodically during operations. In this way they will be able to reduce their impact on the environment more effectively.“said the researcher.

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Trucks transporting bauxite along a mining road in Guinea. / Genevieve Campbell

More transparency in mining companies

In the article, the research team points out that because mining companies are not required to publish biodiversity data, the actual impact of mining on biodiversity and especially great apes could be even greater.

"There are a series of incentives for companies to reduce their environmental and social impact. However, a persistent problem is that mining companies tend to address only direct impacts, ignoring indirect impacts or those that do not arise during exploration.Juncker said.

The researcher highlighted that the available information does not offer a complete picture: "We support greater transparency in the mining sector and call on lending banks, including the World Bank, to ensure the availability of environmental data. Specifically, we request that projects supported by the World Bank make data from ape studies transparent on a centralized platform such as the APES database"

According to this expert, companies may be limiting the impact of their operations within the limits of the mining lease contract, ignoring environmental issues. Additionally, they often underestimate the timing of implementing mitigation strategies, which can hinder population recovery.

"We urge companies, lenders and countries to reconsider investments in exploration in biodiversity areas, emphasizing the importance of protecting wildlife areas. Furthermore, a social change is necessary to reevaluate our habits. It is important that everyone adopts a consumption reduction mindset and policymakers employ more effective recycling policies to promote sustainable metal reuse."he emphasized.

Compensation plans are not long term

The compensation for what these mining projects destroy is inaccurate and underestimated by researchers: currently they are developed while they last (normally 20 years), while in the case of great ape habitats the effects are permanent.

"Mining companies should focus as much as possible on avoiding impacts to great apes and use compensation as a last resort" explains Genevieve Campbell, principal investigator of Re:wild, because there are currently no effective case studies on great apes.

This problem adds to the existing problems with agricultural activities such as Palm oil and avocados, which are subject to separate Rainforest Alliance regulations and certifications. "However, as with mining regulations, shortcomings such as lack of transparency, limited scope and enforcement limit their effectiveness."Uecker condemned.

"Scientific collection of biodiversity baseline data and data monitoring are essential for any development project. Moving away from fossil fuels is good for the climate, but it must be done in a way that does not harm biodiversity. In its current form, it may even contradict the environmental goals we strive to achieve.”, summarizes the expert.


Jessica Junker et al. “Threat of mining to African great apes.”  Science Advances

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