Illegal mining can have devastating effects on wildlife, including through increased habitat destruction, hunting pressure and commercial bushmeat trafficking, pollution, anthropogenic noise and other disturbance. African elephants and great apes are among the species most affected by these threats and are species which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal mandate to protect and conserve.

Development of extractive industries - such as for coltan, iron ore, manganese, tantalum, tin, tungsten, gold, and diamonds - often leads to greater road access and dramatic changes to traditional communities and their land-use. The creation of new roads gives poachers and slash-and-burn farmers access to remote areas of the forest, depleting wildlife populations and causing further deforestation. New human settlements, work camps, and roads are often built without concern for the ecological damage they will cause. A larger human population, lack of fresh protein alternatives, and inadequate enforcement of wildlife laws place even higher demand on bushmeat.

These impacts are even greater when the extractive industry is operating illegally.

Despite its vast size and relative intactness, Central Africa's Congo’s Basin and wildlife are under severe threat, with recent drastic declines of the critically endangered Grauer's gorilla and endangered forest elephant. These losses are often associated with areas of uncontrolled, illegal mineral extraction.

Below, we highlight some of the challenging work of USFWS grantees in the context of illicit mines in Central Africa, and provide recommendations on how you can help make a difference.

USFWS-supported protected areas facing the challenges of illegal mining. Inset 1. Mbam et Djerem National Park (MDNP), Minkébé National Park (MNP), the proposed Ogooué-Leketi National Park (OLNP). Inset 2. Bili-Uere Complex (BILI), Okapi Faunal Reserve (OFR), Kahuzi Biega National Park (KBNP). Map credit: Matthew Luizza / USFWS. Elephant range (2008) and gorilla range (2016) data from IUCN Red List.
USFWS-supported protected areas facing the challenges of illegal mining. Inset 1. Mbam and Djerem National Park (MDNP), Minkébé National Park (MNP), the proposed Ogooué-Leketi National Park (OLNP). Inset 2. Bili-Uere Complex (BILI), Okapi Faunal Reserve (OFR), Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP).

Map credit: Matthew Luizza / USFWS. Elephant range (2008) and gorilla range (2016) data from IUCN Red List.

 

Mbam and Djerem National Park (MDNP), Cameroon | Minkébé National Park (MNP), Gabon | Ogooué-Leketi National Park (OLNP), Republic of the Congo | Bili-Uere Complex (BUC), Democatic Republic of the Congo (DRC) | Okapi Faunal Reserve (OFR), DRC | Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP), DRC

 

 


Forest elephant in Minkébé National Park. 
Photo credit: Bill Kanapaux / USFWS
Forest elephant in Minkébé National Park.
Photo credit: Bill Kanapaux / USFWS

Minkébé National Park (MNP), Gabon


Recent USFWS-supported work by ecologist John Poulsen and his lab at Duke University, showed a startling up to 81 percent loss of forest elephants in MNP, one of the largest, most remote protected areas in Central Africa. In 2011 Gabon’s National Parks Agency (ANPN) removed more than 6,000 illegal immigrants (mostly Cameroonians) from an illegal gold mining camp in Minkébé. This mine, in the park’s buffer zone, had acted as a hub for a number of criminal activities, including poaching, and other, smaller mines were operating within the park itself. We have since supported ANPN in conducting aerial surveillance of Gabon’s national parks and buffer zones to respond to signs of mining and other unauthorized activities.

 

Read more in blog posts on National Geographic's A Voice for Elephants:
Minkebe: A Tragedy Revealed and a Lesson to be Learned
The battle for the survival of the forest elephant can be won



ICCN rangers destroy illegal camp during NBC documentary shoot. 
Photo credit: African Parks Foundation
ICCN rangers destroy illegal camp during NBC documentary shoot.
Photo credit: African Parks Foundation

Bili-Uere Complex (BILI), DRC


In the vast landscape - which was home to some 100,000 forest elephants in the 1970s and still has enormous potential as a refuge for wild species and habitats - one of our partners encountered more than a dozen artisanal mining sites (gold and some diamond) during faunal surveys conducted between 2010 and 2012. Bushmeat hunting spread as wildlife was being depleted near mining centers in the region’s western and northeastern regions. Through USFWS support, guards from the Congolese National Park Authority, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), were installed at a base in Bili, and a workshop with representatives from the district level, national police, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society was convened to describe the context of ICCN’s mandate to strengthen wildlife protection and protected area management, including by tackling illegal mining and bushmeat hunting.

 

 

 

 


Forest elephants in the proposed Ogooué-Leketi National Park.
Photo credit: Clement Inkama Nkulu / Wildlife Conservation Society
Forest elephants in the proposed Ogooué-Leketi National Park.
Photo credit: Clement Inkama Nkulu / Wildlife Conservation Society

Ogooué-Leketi National Park (OLNP), Republic of the Congo


Our ongoing support for the 35,350-square-kilometer transboundary landscape in and around the proposed OLNP has assured the presence of researchers and surveillance and anti-poaching patrols that help protect key forest elephant sites in Bateke Plateau. Forest clearings, or bais, are monitored from platforms to deter poachers. An emerging challenge is that trained ecoguards are leaving Bateke to work in the recently opened Zanaga iron mining concession. This points to another upshot of mining: Conservation jobs must now compete with mining jobs. Where conservation jobs play a role in helping secure a region, mining can result in insecurity, especially if supply chains are not carefully monitored and analyzed.


Watch a video produced by one of our partners in this landscape:

A Vital Piece of Natural Heritage to be Saved


Camera trap image of an okapi.
Photo credit: Zoological Society of London
Camera trap image of an okapi.
Photo credit: Zoological Society of London

Okapi Faunal Reserve (OFR), DRC


In OFR, designated in 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, USFWS has supported ranger patrols and law enforcement activities to reduce forest elephant poaching. This landscape holds DRC’s largest known population of forest elephants and a high diversity of both ungulates (including the rare and unusual okapi) and primates. But illicit activities, including poaching and illegal mining, have had detrimental impacts. In 2015, 124 miners were evacuated from the reserve and seven mining and poaching camps were dismantled. Within a year, illegal mining activities resumed in most camps because of multiple attacks on the reserve by armed militias that took the lives of two ecoguards; management activities were temporarily suspended.

A chronic state of insecurity in OFR is tied to a number of armed militias that actively exploit natural resources, including gold, ivory, and precious gems. Our grantees have emphasized that these armed groups are destabilizing the reserve.





The white-bellied pangolin is one of three species of pangolin found in MDNP. Photo credit: Frank Kohn / USFWS
The white-bellied pangolin is one of three species of pangolin found in MDNP. Photo credit: Frank Kohn / USFWS

Mbam and Djerem National Park (MDNP), Cameroon


Here, in one of Cameroon’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, industrial projects, including bauxite mining, are also a major threat to wildlife. The infrastructure development associated with these activities brings in migrant workers who often exploit the forest for food and additional income, leading to the development of new bushmeat markets and the subsequent, rapid decline of species of conservation concern, including forest elephant, chimpanzee, and pangolins. To help secure wildlife in the park, USFWS partners are improving surveillance (including night patrols), establishing new outposts, and engaging local stakeholders.


Find out more about pangolins and learn about our recent efforts to develop a transdisplinary team of emerging conservation leaders to be champions for pangolin conservation in Central Africa:

Pangolins
MENTOR-POP (Progress on Pangolins)


Grauer's gorilla silverback in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. 
Photo credit: Wildlife Conservation Society
Grauer's gorilla silverback in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
Photo credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP), DRC


In KBNP, years of post-war insecurity largely prevented conservation activities, particularly in the rebel-held lowland sector. Illegal hunting of gorillas, associated with rebel groups and illegal mining, has devastated gorilla populations. With an estimated 77-93 percent decline across its range over the past 20 years, the Grauer's gorilla is now considered critically endangered.

KBNP remains a vital stronghold for the survival of Grauer's gorillas. To help secure the park’s habitat and its wildlife, USFWS partners are strengthening law enforcement to tackle illegal mining and hunting, including by collecting intelligence, establishing ranger posts, and increasing mobile patrols.


To learn more about how we are working with partners to protect the Grauer's gorilla and other great apes, please visit:

Great Ape Conservation Fund

 

 


Help Make a Difference


Illegal mining and trade in minerals exploits opportunities of the larger global trade system to everyone’s detriment. As consumers, our choice of smartphone, other electonics, batteries, and cars may contribute to the demise of Central Africa's great apes and elephants, cause social upheaval, and fuel conflicts between people. Achieving transparency in the trade of resources out of Central Africa is critical to the survival of elephants, but it is also critical to achieving human security in the region. It is on us to ensure that we source our purchased items responsibly for a safer, better world.

Here are some recommendations to help make informed purchasing decisions:

  1. Before you purchase any electronics (smartphones, computers, etc.), visit the company's website to see if they have developed and are implementing policies on conflict minerals across their supply chain.
  2. Choose products from companies that are transparent and follow conflict-free mineral policies, and let the company know why you're choosing them.
  3. Help raise public awareness about the impact of conflict minerals from Central Africa on wildlife and human communities and the importance of everyone's purchasing power.
  4. Stay up to date on this issue. Here are some resource pages that you can visit for more information:

    Responsible Sourcing Network
    Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade
    Be a Smart Consumer: A Guide to Responsible Holiday Shopping

Men and women working in an illegal mine in Minkébé National Park in 2011. 
Photo credit: Richard Ruggiero / USFWS
Men and women working in an illegal mine in Minkébé National Park in 2011.
Photo credit: Richard Ruggiero / USFWS