Chimpanzees in the Island Of Gold: Impacts of artisanal small-scale gold mining on chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in Fongoli, Senegal
Despite its historical and global pervasiveness, little quantitative research has been conducted on artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and terrestrial wildlife. Using an ethnoprimatological approach, this body of work evaluates the impacts of anthropogenic activity associated with ASGM on a community of savanna chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) living in a complex and coupled human and natural system. Research was conducted in Senegal where the recent intensification of ASGM has increased the local human population, polluted, and degraded the environment, and threatens the habitat of critically endangered West African savanna chimpanzees. To quantify the impacts of ASGM, we analyzed 10 years of chimpanzee observational data from the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project (FSCP) database related to human-chimpanzee encounters, chimpanzee behavior, and habitat use. During the study period, ASGM increased from a few seasonal miners to seven intensively mined sites and shifted local livelihoods from non-timber resource collection to gold mining. As ASGM increased, we found corresponding increases in human-chimpanzee encounters and human-initiated interactions. Chimpanzee behavior related to ASGM was complex and varied with spatial and temporal scales. At the level of home range, we observed a shift in ranging patterns toward the largest mine during initial and low-level activity. As mining expanded and increased in intensity, the home range shifted away, resulting in the avoidance of preferred land cover types and the use of poorer quality habitat types. The expansion of the largest mine also blocked previously used travel routes to feeding patches. At the finer scale of mining areas, mining activity increased the apes’ use of anthropogenic areas, particularly on days when miners were absent. The presence of miners did not change chimpanzee use of forested and woodland areas adjacent to mining sites, however. When at the ASGM sites, the apes inspected materials left by the miners and drank water from mining pits, perhaps assessing the novel disturbance and potential risks. However, risks associated ASGM activities (i.e. mercury toxicity, exposure to human fecal pathogens, degradation of forest resources, and risks associated with uncovered and abandoned pits) are likely to go unperceived by chimpanzees and may pose a more insidious threat to chimpanzee conservation in the form of an ecological trap.