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Western chimpanzees need protection from human development

A new study from the University of Kent has revealed that chimpanzees of West Africa are threatened by lack of regulated human development. According to the researchers, robust regulation of large-scale development is required to protect the habitats of western chimpanzees.

“Global biodiversity loss is occurring at an alarming rate, with a growing consensus that we are entering a sixth mass extinction,” wrote the study authors. “Rapid human development and associated habitat loss, principally through agriculture, infrastructure and extractive industries, is a significant contributor.”

Western chimpanzees were classified as critically endangered in 2016 after their population declined by 80 percent in just over two decades. This ongoing trend has been primarily driven by poaching and habitat loss.

The researchers noted that although western chimpanzees are legally protected throughout their range, an estimated 83 percent of the population lives outside of protected areas. The chimps are particularly vulnerable to open-pit mining, a technique that can be extremely destructive.

The Kent team reviewed a total of 175 laws across the eight countries where western chimpanzees can be found. The results of the study suggest that the current legislation does not protect western chimpanzees from the environmental impacts of development, including mining. 

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

“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,” said study co-author Thomas Evans.

“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.’

The study is published in the journal Biological Conservation.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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