© Maegan Fitzgerald
With projects such as roads, railroads, hydroelectric dams and power lines projected to increase sharply over the next few decades, West Africa is experiencing an era of major infrastructural expansion. Such developments are regarded as a much-needed boon for the economic status of West African nations. Yet, as beneficial as they should be for people in these regions, infrastructural developments are widely-recognised for their association with significant habitat loss and degradation, and accelerating other drivers of habitat and biodiversity loss (Laurance et al. 2006; Poulsen et al. 2009; Ziegler et al. 2016), which can have negative consequences for people by destroying and degrading the resources upon which they depend. In addition, the benefits from some projects do not even reach the rural poor who need them most. On the contrary, people are sometimes displaced by such projects without compensation (Wormington 2018; O’Mahony 2019). If chimpanzee habitat is continually sacrificed for economic development, then the outcome is simple: we will lose chimpanzees. No amount of mitigation for hydroelectric dams is going to avoid chimpanzee fatalities. If a project is sincere about preventing the local demise of chimpanzees, then careful consideration must be given as to where they be placed so that chimpanzee habitat is avoided in the first place.
Roads are a prime example of infrastructure that has negative impacts on chimpanzees and other wildlife. Often built to support extractive industries, such as mining and logging concessions, and to improve access for otherwise poorly-connected rural populations, the construction of roads destroys and fragments habitat, and opens up previously inaccessible areas (Sloan et al. 2017; Laurance et al. 2018b). Roads that cut through chimpanzee habitat may limit the chimpanzees’ access to food and nesting trees, depending on road width and usage. Further yet, roads enable poaching in previously unprofitable areas (Junker et al. 2015b; Greengrass 2016), which results in chimpanzee population declines and ultimately local extirpation.
It has been forecast that approximately 10% of remaining African ape habitat will be impacted by infrastructure projects by the year 2030, signalling infrastructure development as a real and imminent threat to great apes, including western chimpanzees. Four large-scale infrastructure corridors have already been proposed for West Africa, which alone are expected to affect 10% of western chimpanzees. This compounds further already existing threats of roadways to chimpanzees, as over 88% of the population is estimated to live within 10 km of a major road (ibid.).
Other anticipated impacts in the region relate to the construction of hydroelectric dams, with at least 32 dams planned or under construction as of 2015. Many of these potential projects intersect prime chimpanzee habitat, such as the Fouta Djallon highlands in Guinea. Most notably, the planned Koukoutamba dam has already provoked a global outcry due to the unquestionable consequences its construction will have for chimpanzees and other wildlife in the newly-gazetted Moyen-Bafing National Park in Guinea (Schembri 2018; Watts 2019).