Africa’s apes in peril from losing habitat to mining

Saturday April 20 2024

A female black howler monkey carries its nine-day-old baby on its back as it sits on a branch. PHOTO | REUTERS


High demand for critical minerals to power green energy is driving an alarming threat to Africa’s great ape population, with over one-third of these majestic creatures at risk due to mining activities, a recent study, says.

The study published in Science Advances was led by teams from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, and conservation organisation Re:wild. It estimates that more than one-third of the entire ape population — nearly 180,000 gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees — is at risk.

“These minerals are essential for the transition to cleaner energy, but then they are leading to increased deforestation of tropical rainforests where the apes reside,” explained the researchers.

Read: African Great Apes, elephants set to face more extreme climate

The study also highlights that because mining companies are not required to make biodiversity data publicly available, the true impact of mining on biodiversity and great apes, in particular, may be even higher and may be further obscuring the true impact on great apes and their habitats. Also, there still exists a scarcity of studies assessing the threat of mining to global biodiversity.

Using data from operational and preoperational mining sites across 17 African nations, the researchers identified significant overlaps between high ape density areas and mining zones.


In Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Guinea, the overlap between mining areas and great ape habitats was particularly pronounced.

Dr Jessica Junker, lead author of the study, emphasizes the need for transparency in mining to better understand its impact on great apes and their habitats. She underscores the importance of mining companies sharing data to inform conservation efforts and mitigate environmental damage.

The study also examines how mining areas intersect with Critical Habitat, vital regions for biodiversity preservation. Despite regulations governing these areas, the researchers found substantial overlaps, raising concerns about the effectiveness of offset plans to compensate for mining impacts.

The scientists advise that avoidance measures be implemented during the exploration phase. However, this phase is poorly regulated, and companies often collect baseline data after significant habitat destruction has occurred.

Read: China factor in West Africa's deforestation

Consequently, these data fail to accurately represent the original state of great ape populations in the area before mining commenced.

“In West Africa in particular, numerous mining areas overlap with fragmented ape habitats, often in high-density ape regions. For 97 percent of mining areas, no ape survey data are available, underscoring the importance of increased accessibility to environmental data within the mining sector to facilitate research into the complex interactions between mining, climate, biodiversity, and sustainability,” they said.

“Companies operating in these areas should have adequate mitigation and compensation schemes in place to minimise their impact, which seems unlikely, given that most companies lack robust species baseline data that are required to inform these actions,” says Dr Tenekwetche Sop, manager of the IUCN SSC A.P.E.S. Database at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History, a repository of all great ape population data.

“Encouraging these companies to share their invaluable ape survey data with our database serves as a pivotal step towards transparency in their operations. Only through such collaborative efforts can we comprehensively gauge the true extent of mining activities’ effects on great apes and their habitats.