© Kalyanee Mam, Boké, Guinea 2018

(EEAI=Energy, Extractive & Associated Infrastructure)

Apes live in 34 countries in Africa and Asia – two regions of the world where rapid globalization, urbanization and accelerated infrastructure development have put biodiversity at risk. 

Although apes face many of the same threats as other taxa, they are especially vulnerable due to their life history with long periods of maturation and low birth rates, resulting in very slow population growth rates. Even a slight increase in mortality rates can quickly result in negative growth rates and population declines, from which it will take decades or centuries to recover. 

Kalyanee Mam Bossou, Guinea 2018

Most species of ape are still declining precipitously, such as the western chimpanzee whose numbers have dropped by 80% in the last 24 years, and the Grauer’s gorilla whose population declined from an estimated 17,000 to below 4,000 over 20 years. The construction of dams, roads and mining activity are a significant factor in the decline of different species of ape to varying degrees. Some of the most urgent threats to the western chimpanzee for example, are related to exploding mining activities, especially for bauxite, gold and iron-ore, the development of hydroelectric dams and agribusiness. The greatest threat to the newly discovered Tapanuli orangutan is the Batang Toru dam that will fragment habitat to such an extent that it could push them to extinction. Similar impacts from hydropower project development are expected on gibbon’s habitats.

Bumbuna Dam, Sierra Leone Chuck Moravec reproduced CC BY 3.0

To prevent the disastrous impacts that EEAI projects are having on apes, we need to do a better job to work across sectors to ensure that EEAI projects avoid ape habitat in the first place, respect those global designations for "no-go zones," mitigate more effectively negative impacts, restore habitat after a project is complete, and ensure that all projects pay damages for any residual impacts in a strategic and sustainable way so that apes are protected in perpetuity.

Apes are an integral part of a healthy ecosystem, critical seed dispersers and are intelligent beings with similar emotions to humans. They are our closest living relatives on Earth. As a global community, we have the moral responsibility to protect each individual and their habitat. As each project chips away at a little more forest, the cumulative impact of development on apes will be catastrophic. Avoidance of ape habitat in the first place is key. 

Bonobos. Volker Worst reproduced CC BY 3.0