Electric vehicle boom is threatening the survival of Africa’s great apes

One-third of Africa’s population of great apes are at risk from a boom in mining-related habitat destruction in the continent, a new study has found.

The impact of mining on these iconic primates has been vastly underestimated, according to research published on Wednesday in Science Advances.

The study said more than 180,000 great apes are now under threat due to mining-related activities such as road construction and pollution.

Great apes belong to the family Hominidae comprising orangutans, gorillas, panins (bonobos and chimpanzees), and humans.

Clean energy requires critical minerals like copper, lithium, and cobalt, which are mostly unexploited in Africa. However, rising demand and mining activities to extract these minerals are leading to extensive deforestation of tropical rainforests across the continent.

These forests are crucial habitats for numerous species, including gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees – the closest living relatives of humans.

The study provides crucial information about the biodiversity cost of mineral extraction. Mining companies are not required to make biodiversity data publicly available, researchers say, warning that the true impact of mining on biodiversity and great apes, in particular, may be even higher.

A shift away from fossil fuels is good for the climate but must be done in a way that does not jeopardise biodiversity.”

Dr Genevieve Campbell, senior researcher at Re:wild

“Currently, studies on other species suggest that mining harms apes through pollution, habitat loss, increased hunting pressure, and disease, but this is an incomplete picture,” says Dr Jessica Junker, first author of the study and a researcher at Re:wild, a wildlife conservation organisation.

“The lack of data sharing by mining projects hampers our scientific understanding of its true impact on great apes and their habitat.”

Researchers analysed data from 17 African nations and their operational and preoperational mining sites, defining buffer zones to understand how increased human activities and presence were affecting great apes.

They found out that it increases pressure on great apes and their habitat through increased hunting, habitat loss, and a higher risk of disease transmission.

West African nations, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Guinea, emerged as particularly vulnerable regions, with high great ape densities in mining areas.

In Guinea alone, over 23,000 chimpanzees, representing up to 83 per cent of the country’s ape population, face direct or indirect threats from mining activities.

Researchers say mining companies should not depend on offsetting, or compensating, for these biodiversity impacts since most of the projects to rehabilitate these apes have not been successful.

”Mining companies need to focus on avoiding their impacts on great apes as much as possible and use offsetting as a last resort as there is currently no example of a great ape offset that has been successful”, explains Dr Genevieve Campbell, senior researcher at Re:wild.

“Avoidance needs to take place already during the exploration phase,” he adds, “but unfortunately, this phase is poorly regulated:.

“A shift away from fossil fuels is good for the climate but must be done in a way that does not jeopardise biodiversity,” he says.