Great apes and biodiversity offset projects in Africa: the case for national offset strategies

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 5;9(11):e111671. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111671. eCollection 2014.


The development and private sectors are increasingly considering "biodiversity offsets" as a strategy to compensate for their negative impacts on biodiversity, including impacts on great apes and their habitats in Africa. In the absence of national offset policies in sub-Saharan Africa, offset design and implementation are guided by company internal standards, lending bank standards or international best practice principles. We examine four projects in Africa that are seeking to compensate for their negative impacts on great ape populations. Our assessment of these projects reveals that not all apply or implement best practices, and that there is little standardization in the methods used to measure losses and gains in species numbers. Even if they were to follow currently accepted best-practice principles, we find that these actions may still fail to contribute to conservation objectives over the long term. We advocate for an alternative approach in which biodiversity offset and compensation projects are designed and implemented as part of a National Offset Strategy that (1) takes into account the cumulative impacts of development in individual countries, (2) identifies priority offset sites, (3) promotes aggregated offsets, and (4) integrates biodiversity offset and compensation projects with national biodiversity conservation objectives. We also propose supplementary principles necessary for biodiversity offsets to contribute to great ape conservation in Africa. Caution should still be exercised, however, with regard to offsets until further field-based evidence of their effectiveness is available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem*
  • Geography
  • Hominidae*

Grant support

Funding for part of this study was provided by the Arcus Foundation grant no. 1104-38 ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish. They did contribute to discussions of these ideas and preparation of the manuscript.