The extraction of materials needed for the ‘green revolution’ endangers the great ape population

By | April 3, 2024

Rare earth elements touch almost every aspect of modern life. Elements and minerals included copper, lithium, nickel and cobalt supporting the technology that can power clean energy, electric vehicles, telescope lenses and computer monitors, and more. Because they are stored deep in the earth, extracting these elements can be ecologically harmful.

The demand for rare earth elements in countries in Africa is leading to the destruction of tropical rainforests wherever they occur more than half of the world’s cobalt and copper. Now, that of the continent big monkey population is more threatened by mining than scientists initially thought. a study published April 3 in the journal Scientific progress estimates that nearly 180,000 gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees are at risk.

[Related: A deep sea mining zone in the remote Pacific is also a goldmine of unique species.]

“There has been an increase in mining in Africa to meet the demands of more industrialized countries and this is linked to the ‘green revolution’. This requires [a] significant amount of crucial minerals to build electric cars, wind turbines, etc.” Genevieve Campbellco-author of a study and primatologist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and non-profit organization re:wild, says PopSci. “Unfortunately, the location of these minerals often overlaps with monkey habitat, but people are unaware of the impact of their consumption patterns on monkeys. This study aimed to quantify this impact and raise awareness on this topic.”

Looking at West Africa

In the studyan international team of scientists used and defined data on operational and pre-operational mining sites in 17 African countries 6.2 mile wide buffer zones to take into account the direct impacts of mining, including habitat destruction and light and noise pollution. They also defined 50-kilometer buffer zones for the more indirect impacts associated with increased human activity near mining sites, including new roads and infrastructure to reach previously remote areas and increased human presence. More human activity generally puts more pressure on the animals and their environment due to increased hunting, habitat loss and a higher risk of disease transmission.

“Mining often exacerbates existing threats by, for example, building roads to remote areas that in turn facilitate access for hunters,” says Campbell.

land cleared for a railway to transport iron oreland cleared for a railway to transport iron ore

Chimpanzee habitat cleared for a railway line to transport iron ore to a port in Guinea. CREDIT: Genevieve Campbell.

By integrating great ape population density data, the team was able to determine how many African great apes could be negatively affected by mining activities and map areas where high ape densities and heavy mining overlapped.

They found that more than a third of the great ape population – 180,000 animals – is endangered. The West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinea had the greatest overlaps of high ape densities and mining areas. The most significant overlap between mining and chimpanzee density was found in Guinea, where more than 23,000 chimpanzees (80 percent of the country’s monkey population) could be directly or indirectly affected by mining activities. Even the most vulnerable areas are usually not protected.

“I expected the spatial overlap between mining projects and the apes’ habitat to be large and I suspected that previous estimates had underestimated the potential impact of mining-related activities on great apes,” study co-author and IUCN and re:wild conservation biologist Jessie Junker tells PopSci. “The results of this study therefore did not really come as a surprise, as assessments at this spatial scale had not previously been carried out.”

‘Critical Habitat’ zones

The study also examined how mining areas intersect with areas that could be considered ‘critical habitat’.‘These regions have unique biodiversity and plant life that are crucial to the survival of a species. They found 20 percent overlap between proposed mining areas and critical habitat zones. When a region is designated in this way, strict environmental regulations can be implemented. These regulations particularly apply to mining projects that seek financing from groups such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) or other lenders that adhere to similar standards.

a chimpanzee swinging through the treesa chimpanzee swinging through the trees

A chimpanzee in Bossou, Guinea. CREDIT: Maegan Fitzgerald.

According to the teamPrevious efforts to map critical habitats in African countries have overlooked large swathes of monkey habitats that would qualify under international benchmarks.

“Companies operating in these areas must have adequate mitigation and compensation arrangements in place to minimize their impact, which seems unlikely as most companies do not have robust species baseline data needed to inform these actions.” Tenekwetche Sopco-author of the study and administrator of the great ape population database at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Germany, said in a statement. “Encouraging these companies to share their invaluable monkey survey data with our database is a crucial step toward transparency in their activities. Only through such joint efforts can we fully appreciate the true extent of the impacts of mining activities on great apes and their habitats.”

What can be done

In future research, the team hopes to quantify the direct and indirect impacts of mining activities in a different range of African countries and different countries. monkey species. Currently, these risks are not often considered and mitigated by mining companies. The authors of the study also urge mining companies to avoid their impact on great apes and for more data collection to get a more accurate picture of where apes live in relation to where mining operations may take place.

[Related: How can we decarbonize copper and nickel mining?]

The general population also has a responsibility to ensure that there is no shift away from fossil fuels at the expense of biodiversity.

“We can all do something to help protect great apes and their habitat. It is crucial that everyone adopts a reduced consumption mentality,” says Junker. “In addition, policymakers should implement more effective recycling policies to facilitate the sustainable reuse of metals.”

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