Why seek mineral development at all?
With the ever-increasing demand for raw materials in an advancing global society, it is likely that commercially viable mineral deposits will be sought and developed. Especially in those countries where significant economic development opportunities are rare, there will be strong pressure to develop mineral resources. But neither the industry nor host country governments want economic development at the expense of the great apes. A mining operation can be a huge economic engine with valuable local and regional benefits for both local people and protection of ape habitat. But mining cannot be done without impacts. The challenge is to find that “best balance” for coexistence.
Extraction of the Earth’s mineral resources inherently has environmental and social impacts. This is an especially sensitive issue when exploration prospects are identified within great ape habitat. The forested areas that are home to important primate species include some of the poorest and most underdeveloped regions of the world. These regions often provide inadequate protein and cultivatable food sources and have extensive subsistence cultural practices coupled with an uninformed and sometimes illiterate populace. Unfortunately, Man does not get to choose where economic accumulations of the earth’s natural resources occur; but when they are discovered in economic quantities, they represent a significant engine for economic development in the region and a potential mechanism for local people to afford to move away from the bushmeat trade that is so dramatically diminishing great ape populations.
Great apes’ natural habitat is located within several countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. Host country governments here are keen to promote economic development, because with it comes access to quality education, medical services and clean water for its people. Exploration licenses and mineral concessions (land areas set aside for exploration and development) are issued to companies allowing them the opportunity to explore for mineral resources. The odds are stacked heavily against the discovery of viable mineral deposits and their development into a commercially profitable mine, but success can bring profound economic benefit to the company, the region and the nation. This is why companies are willing to invest the money and time to complete the exploration, analysis, planning, engineering and environmental studies needed to determine whether or not a mineralized area is feasible for commercial development.