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Mineral extraction threatens great apes across Africa

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More than a third of the great ape population in Africa is endangered by mining, according to a new study.

The threat to these 180,000 chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas has so far been underestimated, wrote scientists from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) in the journal Science Advances.

The increasing demand for important minerals such as copper, lithium, cobalt and rare earths, which are needed for the large-scale transition to clean energy, has led to a boom in mining in Africa, they say.

There are also other direct and indirect effects, such as the construction of roads, the settlement of people in previously uninhabited areas, hunting and the possible transmission of diseases.

For the study, the research team led by scientists from iDiv Halle-Jena-Leipzig used data on mining sites in 17 African countries that have either already been put into operation or are currently being developed.

They compared the locations of these mining sites with the habitats of great ape populations, assuming that animals within a radius of 10 kilometres were directly affected and those within a radius of 50 kilometres indirectly.

The scientists found the greatest overlaps in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinea. The overlap between the habitat of chimpanzees and mining was particularly strong in Guinea.

According to the study, more than 23,000 chimpanzees or up to 83% of the ape population there could be directly or indirectly affected by mining activities.

“Moving away from fossil fuels is right and important for the climate,” said the environmental organization Re:wild in a statement on the report. However, it must be done in a way that does not jeopardize biodiversity.

“Companies, lenders and governments need to recognize that sometimes leaving some areas untouched can be more beneficial to mitigating climate change and preventing future epidemics,” the group said.

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