Threats In Context
According to the World Population Review for 2019, and the World Bank, Guinea is among the 25 poorest countries in the world. Many people do not have access to clean drinking water, and only 87% of the population have access to electricity. It is in this context that the threats to chimpanzees in Guinea need to be viewed.
Guinea has a an incredibly rich cultural diversity, biodiversity, and tremendous potential for ecotourism. Because Guinea provides home to the sources of many of the most major rivers in West Africa, it is an incredibly important country in the region in terms of providing fresh water for drinking, and irrigation to millions of people downstream.
But these rivers are also viewed as having tremendous hydro-power potential. In addition, Guinea sits on the largest bauxite reserves in the world and the largest iron-ore deposit in all of Africa and mining could generate billions of dollars. Today Guinea sits at a crossroads. Before massive development and exploitation begins, Guinea has the chance to engage in land-use planning so that those critical forests that protect river sources and critical biodiversity are conserved. Guinea could develop in a sustainable way with the lowest impact possible to the environment. Or, Guinea could mine her minerals destroying massive areas of forest, dam her rivers at the expense of animals and people in the longterm, for short term gain for a few.
Not only does Guinea have the largest number of chimpanzees in West Africa, but it has the largest bauxite reserve on the planet (used to make aluminum), and the largest iron ore deposit on the continent.
An estimated 62 million tonnes of bauxite (the equivalent weight of more than 6,000 Eiffel Towers) will be removed from Guinea by the end of 2019, transported on trains to the coast, then on boats to smelters around the world, where the raw bauxite is turned into aluminum.
Mining not only threatens the lives of the chimpanzees, but also the people living near the mines (see Human Rights Watch Report here). Please also see Jennifer Moahoney's Mongabey article which can also be found here.
Two companies have been working on ways to compensate for the damage their mining results in for the chimpanzees. The Global Alumina Corporation (GAC) and the Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée CBG are supporting the creation and protection of the new Moyen Bafing National Park.
The “Belt and Road Initiative” will be the largest infrastructure project in human history and will span across 72 countries. As well as the many benefits roads have in connecting people, and increasing trade and commerce, roads are also widely known to negatively impact wild places and wildlife, by opening up formerly inaccessible areas to hunting and further human degradation. Already, nearly 60% of chimpanzees in West Africa live within 5 km of a road (Heinicke et al. 2019a).
More than 87% of people in Guinea are without electricity. Guinea has tremendous hydroelectric potential but these same waters also provide drinking water, irrigation and livelihoods to millions of people downstream. Often touted as being a "green" form of energy generation, dams are often destructive to both nature and people. Guinea is yet to explore other possible energy generation methods such as wind and solar but these may hold the answer for Guinea's sustainable development.
In the past, dams used to be a popular solution to providing energy, but over time, the tremendous problems they generate have become apparent, and we have witnessed terrible environmental and human catastrophes from dams such as the Brumadinho dam disaster in Brazil this year that killed over 200 people. Dams are becoming an outdated form of power generation. Across the world, dams are being deconstructed and countries are turning to other newer, cutting-edge methods of generating electricity that have fewer detrimental effects on both people and the environment. See here for information about the "Problems with big dams."
Guinea currently has plans to build a network of dams across the Fouta Djallon as part of the Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Sénégal (OMVS). One of these dams, called the Koukoutamba dam, will flood an area double the size of San Francisco, and risks killing up to 1,500 chimpanzees. Two thirds of the electricity generated by the dam is to be sold to other countries. The remaining third is to support the bauxite mining. The dam is to be built in the middle of the newly created Moyen Bafing National Park. This park was created by the Guinean Government in partnership with the International Finance Corporation, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation and the two mining companies CBG and GAC and was meant to be the biodiversity offset for the unavoidable negative impacts these companies are having on chimpanzees and their habitat in the areas of their concessions.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has written to the President of Guinea, OMVS and Sinohydro requesting that the Guinean government halt plans for the dam and to consider alternative energy sources. Please see copies of these letters here:
Slash and Burn Agriculture and Artisanal logging
Forests in Guinea have been greatly reduced as a result of slash-and-burn agriculture, agricultural methods, and the uncontrolled use of fire. Artisanal logging and coal fabrication also reduce the forested habitats of chimpanzees.
The Pet Trade
Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar illegal industry and is one of the most urgent threats to chimpanzees in West Africa. In her chapter in The Chimpanzees of Bossou and Nimba Asami Kabasawa outlines the disturbing history of chimpanzee exports from Guinea. The Pasteur Institute was established in Guinea in 1924 and is believed to be responsible for exporting 700 chimpanzees over 43 years. After 1959 when the Guinean Government took over the institute, the number of chimpanzees being exported decreased, but they were still smuggled across the border especially into Sierra Leone to five locations that each received about 100 chimpanzees every year. The trade continued out of Sierra Leone and a German importer in New York bought and sold 3,980 chimpanzees from West Africa between 1928 and the mid-1960s. A German businessman Franz Sitter living in Sierra Leone from the 1950s to the early 1990s, exported 1,00-1,500 chimpanzees to the US alone. Although it is illegal in all countries within the chimpanzee’s range in West Africa, the smuggling of orphan chimpanzees still exists today. There have been tremendous efforts to improve the law, and law enforcement by organizations such as the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), and WARA, the sanctuary in Guinea called the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) continues to receive new orphan chimpanzees.
Killing of chimpanzees for food, retaliation or crop protection
Photograph courtesy of Gregg Tully
Chimpanzees are sometimes killed for their meat, although they are only about 1-3% of bushmeat that is sold in markets (Caspary et al. 2001). Chimpanzee abundance is negatively correlated with the distance to markets (Boesch et al. 2017). Killing of chimpanzees for meat is often made easier by development and private sector projects in that previously inaccessible areas are often made more accessible and new roads facilitate the transport of meat to markets. Sometimes chimpanzees are also killed when they are viewed as competitive with humans for food, or in retribution when chimpanzees eat human crops or injure humans.
Because chimpanzees and humans are so similar, they also contract many of the same diseases. In 2002, the Ebola virus swept through Central Africa, killing not only humans, but chimpanzees in gorillas. In some known populations of apes, the virus killed 95% of the population.
In Guinea, in 2003, a deadline respiratory virus killed four chimpanzees in the small community of Bossou chimpanzees.
There are ways in which disease transfer between humans and chimpanzees can be prevented. Please see the IUCN Best Practice Guidelines for Health Monitoring and Disease control in Great Ape Populations here.