A Delicate Balance: Africa’s Great Apes Threatened by Clean Energy Mineral Extraction

Apr 5, 2024 | Environment, News | 0 comments

A recent study published in Science Advances reveals a critical conflict between humanity’s clean energy ambitions and the survival of Africa’s great apes. The research indicates that nearly one-third of the continent’s gorilla, bonobo, and chimpanzee populations face imminent threats due to habitat overlap with mining operations for clean energy metals like copper, lithium, nickel, and cobalt. 

Africa boasts a remarkable abundance of mineral resources, holding one-third of the world’s estimated reserves. However, only a fraction (around 5%) has been tapped thus far. The extraction of these very minerals—copper, lithium, nickel, and cobalt—is fundamental for the development and deployment of clean energy technologies like electric vehicles and renewable energy systems. This presents a complex dilemma: while these resources are crucial for a sustainable energy future, their extraction significantly jeopardises Africa’s rich biodiversity, particularly its great ape populations.

The study emphasises the detrimental consequences of mining on ape habitats. The expansion of mining activities leads to deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and a subsequent decline in overall biodiversity. As ape habitats shrink and become increasingly isolated, gorilla, bonobo, and chimpanzee populations dwindle, pushing them closer to extinction. Furthermore, the noise, pollution, and general disruption associated with mining operations further degrades the quality of these ecosystems, jeopardising the long-term viability of these iconic species.

A particularly concerning aspect identified by the research is the lack of transparency regarding biodiversity data from mining companies. Comprehensive and publicly available data on the environmental impact of mining activities is essential for a thorough assessment of the threat posed to great apes and other wildlife. This underscores the critical need for increased accountability and transparency within the mining industry to ensure responsible environmental stewardship and effective biodiversity conservation efforts.

Africa represents a unique region where vast mineral wealth coexists with diverse and irreplaceable ecosystems. Striking a sustainable balance between resource extraction and conservation efforts is a paramount challenge for policymakers, industry stakeholders, and conservationists alike. Prioritising sustainable mining practices, implementing robust environmental safeguards, and fostering collaborative conservation initiatives are crucial to securing the future of Africa’s great apes and the ecosystems they inhabit.