Congo Miners Poach At-Risk Animals Because They Have Nothing Else to Eat

A new study finds that small-scale mineral mining in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a critical factor in illegal poaching of great apes and other wildlife. It’s happening for the saddest, most basic of reasons, too: Those miners are hungry.

In fact, the miners have no other source of meat/protein. Sure, they’d eat beef, chicken or fish, but their circumstances prevent them from obtaining it. Needing a source of meat, they instead hunt and kill the animals they can find. They’re eating bushmeat from gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and other animals.

The study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) surveyed small-scale miners over the course of three months. An artisanal or small-scale miner is essentially a subsistence miner. These men, women, and even children are not mining company employees. Rather, they work independently at mines, digging or panning for minerals with little to no equipment. They are among the 13 to 25 million people worldwide who scratch out a living in this way.

Cassiterite mine site.  Photo credit: Guillan Mitamba/WCS

Cassiterite mine site. Photo credit: 3. Guillan Mitamba/WCS

In Africa, people become small-scale miners for a variety of reasons. For many, income from agriculture is dwindling. Poverty, regional conflicts, economic crisis or natural disasters push people toward seeing income from this difficult work. These people typically work at mines often controlled by armed groups.

In the DRC, miners are digging for gold, cassiterite (used to make tin), wolframite (used to make tungsten), and coltan (used in technology to manufacture items like cell phones).  Yes, that means your mobile phone almost certainly was made using materials that came from miners sustained by bushmeat.

Between 8 and 10 million residents of DRC make their livelihoods from artisanal and small-scale mining. That’s 14-16 percent of the country’s population as of 2008. If all those people have to hunt to eat, it’s no wonder at-risk animal species populations are plummeting.

Silverback Grauer's gorilla.  Photo credit:  Charlotte Spira/WCS

Silverback Grauer’s gorilla. Photo credit: Charlotte Spira/WCS

Indeed, the miners themselves realize the damage they’re doing. According to the study’s findings:

Almost all respondents stated openly that they consumed bushmeat regularly because of the lack of alternatives and believed that bushmeat hunting had caused declines and local extinctions of some large mammal populations, including great apes. Respondents stated they would reduce their consumption of bushmeat if domestic meats became more available.

“We’ve found most people don’t actually want to mine,” Andrew Plumptre, director of WCS’s Albertine Rift Program, told Wired magazine in 2016. “They tend to be young men who are trying to raise money for school fees or if there’s an emergency and they need medical support for their families.”

This problem has passed the point of crisis. For example, in the eastern DRC the number of Grauer’s gorillas, a critically endangered ape, declined by 77 percent over the past 20 years due to hunting – and miners have been doing much of that hunting.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

In raw numbers, that means while in 1994 we had about 16,900 Grauer’s gorillas, there are only about 3,800 left today. The single greatest cause of this population decimation is poaching by small-scale miners, says the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). What’s needed, says Richard Tshombe, Director for WCS’s Democratic Republic of Congo Program, is some alternative opportunities that would enable the subsistence miners to choose a different path.

“Developing sustainable business opportunities that can compete with the economic benefits of mining could support miners to pursue other avenues of employment and at the same time help ease the burden of mining in DRC’s most biodiverse landscapes,” Tshombe said in a WCS news release.

Miners need an alternative (and would take it, says the study) if it got them out of doing this type of work and subsisting on bushmeat. The DRC also needs to better regulate its mining sector located in forests outside of protected areas. To have any hope of reversing the incredible damage that uncontrolled mining is doing to the local ecosystems and animal populations, the armed groups that defend illegal mining operations also need to be stopped.

As long as armed gangs exert power and continue bringing guns to the forests, nothing will get better for the people or the animals in the Congo.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

heather g
heather g1 years ago

There are many people who haven't got a clue about how widespread dire poverty is in our world. The DRC/Gorilla problem can only be solved by us pressurising our own governments - those miners need to be given alternatives and education/healthcare

Christine Stewart
Christine S1 years ago

we al need to recycle the batteries from our mobile devices, and stop buying every new thing that comes along- the more battery operated toys we have, the more minerals must be mined- and animals killed to feed the miners!

Julie C
Julie C1 years ago

This is how low we've come--pitting endangered animals against humans. Come on First World, we know the answer to this. Help both group by giving Congolese workers a living wage for protecting animals. It's not that complicated. It's the right thing to do for people, animals, and the Earth.

Janet B
Janet B1 years ago


Nicole H

@ barry W : Congo miners are sick ?? No they are just hungry. May be you should, together with some other Care2 members, who left ridiculous comments here, arrange a stay over there for 2 to 3 months and live in the same condition as they do. Wonder if you still will think that they are sick ?? Idiots.

@ Rita u : you know why there is over population ??? Because these people never heard of birth control, they have nothing available to use, not to get pregnant... Ever thought about that ??????????????

@ natasha s. : yes arrest these miners.... and let their wives and children die from starvation. Oh you have such a big heart, heaps of empathy and compassion. It is nearly as bad as Trump..... Let the rich have all, let the poor die. And than you have an excellent solution : the gorillas stay alive, all women and children die, and there is no over population any longer.

I will stop, because I m making a lot of enemies here, but I have to go puking now !!!

Nicole H

@ Ruth C : well may be you can go over there, and tell them to leave the animals live in peace. And they can die from starvation !! You will be most welcome I bet

Nicole H

..... In Chili, South America. I stayed at a home for abandoned children. All the kids in this home were 6 years and upwards. I remember, we shared meals several times. You can not imagine the richness of food we got : baked potatoes with a chunk of bread. Or, one of their favorites : a mixture of mashed avocados (they had some trees in their play ground, and every morning and evening, the kids had to collect them) with a couple of hardboiled eggs. They spread this on a thick chunk of bread, and that was their meal. I have seen the responsible nun going to the market to buy a goat or some chickens which she chopped in very small pieces, and then packed in plastic bags for the freezer. I bet that the pieces of meat were not more than 30 / 40 grams. Even children of 12/13 years only got 1 small piece. with lots and lots and lots of potatoes. They regularly baked their own bread. When for special occasions (birthdays) they baked bread with a few raisons or nuts, the children only got a piece of bread. No butter, no cheese, not salad, nothing. Just this "special bred". That is even not real poverty !!!! Because the children in the streets, or living at home with their parents got less !!!!!!!!! and the children living in the home had 3 meals a day.

Nicole H

@ Terri S : it is very easy for you to say that they do not need meat. You have had an education, or you have read enough to know that certain vegetables can replace nuts, for instance beans, chick peas, etc.. These people never went to school. They can not read of write. They do not have the slightest idea of these vegetables. And where could they buy the planting goods or seeds to grow their own ??? You tell me !!!! And you can choose between an enormous quantity of different nuts, who contain a lot of proteins as well. We are talking here about bush people..... not people living in big cities like Dakar... where there are large shops and big markets where there could buy these things, provided they had money, which THEY DO NOT !! And in God's name, what has your cell phone to do with this matter. You really think these bush people have even a cell phone..... Of course you have seen some African people with cell phones and smart phones. These are not the same people we are talking about. Ever been in a small village in the middle of nowhere, where they got 50 years of war, where they had nothing left. So how would they have the money to buy a smart phone, when they don't have the money to send their kids to school (education in Africa is not GRATIS) If have not been in Africa either, but I know someone who has worked there. You can not imagine the poverty there. And I have been - only for 3 weeks - in Chili, Sout

Nicole H

I remember that on previous occasions I have already written that MANY poaching of wildlife in Africa was not caused by the African people to sell the meat on the black market. And now it has effectively been proven that POVERTY and HUNGER of the local population is the mean reason why so many primates and other wildlife animals are killed. This is much worse than if they were selling the meat on the black market, to get lots of money. It is a matter of survival. They have to work 14/16 hours a day, in those minral mines, hoping that they will gather just enough money not to starve. Their families living miles and miles away don't see much of the money they earn. It are not industrial mines, where a mass of minerals are found. If is very small scaled, and there is no guarantee that 3 / 4 or 5 days of working will pay off. These miners also have to eat, and I presume they can buy small things like bread, some local fruits, etc.. from the people to whom they sell their minerals at ridiculous low prices, because these miners have no idea about the value of these minerals. And apart from their chunk of bread and some local fruits / vegetables, they need proteins. There is no fish, there is no meat, like chickens or pig meat or goat, etc. The only solution is : hunting local wildlife, to obtain some meat. So contrary to what has been written so many times in the past, it is not greed of the local people : it is a matter of S