© Erin Wessling


West Africa is rich in minerals, including bauxite, gold, iron, phosphate and diamonds. This abundance provides the potential for industries and governments to profit from industrial extraction, as well as a scramble among locals at the artisanal level to exploit these resources for cash. These two types of mining operate under vastly different systems and magnitudes, and therefore the impacts they impart on the landscape are considerably different. Industrial mining operates under a formalised system with governmental oversight and involves multinational companies typically funded multilaterally, whereas artisanal mining is often informal and disorganised, typically undertaken by economically marginalised people.

Stakeholders rated the threat of mining at both scales as ‘high’, and with less than 5% of global mineral exploitation occurring in Africa, the potential for growth in West Africa is of great concern for future impacts upon chimpanzees.


© Erin Wessling

Industrial mining

Given this potential, Africa is stated to be on the “verge of an unprecedented mining boom”. Attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment, and slated by local governments as an opportunity to stimulate rapid economic growth and development, industrial mining development is a substantial opportunity for human development, but one which is likely to compete with environmental protection, and can erode the ecosystem services upon which poor rural communities depend.

Due to its large scale and destructive nature, industrial mining has substantial and direct impacts upon chimpanzee habitats, either through degradation and fragmentation or direct removal of the resources the chimpanzees need (White & Fa 2014; Williamson et al. 2014). Less commonly acknowledged, however, are the numerous and wide-ranging indirect impacts that mining at this scale has upon chimpanzees and other wildlife, most especially driving ecosystem degradation and infrastructure development, and stimulating human influxes to otherwise remote regions, besides the impacts on human health, which include water, air and noise pollution.

Industrial mining development offers short-term financial incentives for governments and frequently economically outweighs incentives for conservation. Although most West African governments and the multilateral lending banks (for example, World Bank Group) require mining projects to conduct Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs), the ESIA review system is flawed and is typically limited to evaluation of direct – but not indirect – impacts. ESIAs are usually carried out after significant and destructive explorative activity has already occurred. Most commonly, the discovery of the presence of chimpanzees in a project license does not deter companies from advancing projects or discourage investors from supporting these projects. Instead, companies detail mitigation and avoidance strategies of varying quality, which are then often not implemented in full, especially if the company changes hands. There has been little oversight or monitoring of projects to ensure that mitigation was done effectively. In a few cases, some degree of offsetting for anticipated negative impacts has been proposed (ibid.).

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© Erin Wessling

Artisanal mining

Although artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is an activity that has been ongoing for centuries throughout much of West Africa. It has become more common and widespread in recent decades, to become a significant threat to chimpanzee populations regionally. In contrast to large-scale mining, ASM is commonly informally or semi-formally organised, and undertaken with improvised or rudimentary tools and simple machinery. In West Africa, typical ASM commodities are gold and diamonds (Small 2012; Villegas et al. 2013). ASM sites may be associated with large-scale mining projects, taking advantage of the mineral resources found locally, or located wherever informal exploration has identified small-scale deposits that are obtainable and sufficiently profitable.