Western chimpanzees threatened by lack of regulated human development

Olivia Miller
Western chimpanzee by Tatyana Humle

New research led by the School of Anthropology and Conservation‘s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) has found that the habitats of West African (western) chimpanzees are threatened due to inadequate legislative protection from human development.

Western chimpanzees have been classified as critically endangered since 2016, having declined by 80% in 24 years. Across the eight range countries of the western chimpanzee (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, and Sierra Leone) the continuing trend of species decline is principally attributed to human activities including poaching, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation.

While western chimpanzees are legally protected throughout their range, an estimated 83% of the population lives outside of protected areas. They are therefore at risk from human development, especially open-cast mining which can be highly destructive and has seen a surge in international investment.

The research published by Biological Conservation suggests that the national legislation in place to regulate the environmental impacts of proposed development requires reform, including improved incorporation of mitigation hierarchy principles.

For the study, undertaken by Dr Tatyana Humle, DICE alumnus Thomas Evans and James Wingard (Legal Atlas), a total of 175 laws were reviewed across the eight range countries of western chimpanzees, as well as Costa Rica as a benchmark of best practice. Laws reviewed can be found in the Legal Atlas® platform under the topics Environmental Impact Assessments and Wildlife Trade.

The researchers’ analytical framework assessed each country’s legislation laws for avoiding impacts on chimpanzees, minimising and remediating impact on chimpanzees and the use of biodiversity offsets.

Dr Humle said: ‘The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedures utilised by the countries examined do not go far enough to protect western chimpanzees. With global biodiversity loss occurring at an alarming rate, this is a major concern.’

Thomas Evans said: ‘Mitigation hierarchy principles are critical to species conservation and help to regulate the environmental impacts of projects that are not reliant upon development bank or other debt-financing markets. A tightening of legislation is necessary to ensure that avoidance, remediation and offset measures are implemented in line with the objective of safeguarding the habitat of this critically endangered species.’

Their research paper titled ‘The mitigation hierarchy in environmental impact assessment and related legislation as a tool for species conservation: A case study of western chimpanzees and mining development’ is published by Biological Conservation. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109237