Rodents and Rocks – Gold Fields will get inexperienced gentle to renew Chile chinchilla relocation

Gold Fields late in 2020 launched an operation to relocate a colony of about 25 extremely endangered chinchillas, a species that was nearly hunted to extinction for its extremely coveted fur. (Visible: Courtesy of Luis Ortega)

Gold Fields’ Operation Chinchilla is about to get underneath means once more, two and half years after the deaths of two of the endangered rodents introduced an uncommon wildlife relocation undertaking to a halt.

JSE-listed Gold Fields confirmed in response to Every day Maverick queries that the Chilean authorities have given the relocation the inexperienced gentle to renew. Permission to take action comes simply months earlier than the corporate expects first manufacturing from its $1-billion Salares Norte undertaking within the Chilean Andes.

The unique building of the mine didn’t hinge on Operation Chinchilla’s success, however failure to accommodate the animals would have meant some fine-tuning to the unique plan.

“Gold Fields Restricted can verify that Chile’s environmental regulator – SMA – on 29 June 2023 accredited the Compliance Programme submitted by Gold Fields’ Salares Norte undertaking on 20 December 2021. This was in response to the costs formulated by the regulator because of the incidents that occurred in November 2020 when two chinchillas died shortly after being relocated. Beneath this programme, the relocation actions can recommence from September 2023 onwards,” the corporate mentioned in response to our queries.

Gold Fields late in 2020 launched an operation to relocate a colony of about 25 extremely endangered chinchillas, a species that was nearly hunted to extinction for its extremely coveted fur.

The critters’ rocky residence at altitudes of three,900 metres and better lay close to Gold Fields’ Salares Norte gold undertaking. Relocating them safely was a requirement of the corporate’s environmental allow.

The duty didn’t appear arduous – the rabbit-sized animals are hardly menacing. The plan concerned luring the critters into dwell traps with bait after which relocating them to enclosures to permit them to adapt to their new environment earlier than being launched into the wild just a few kilometres from their authentic residence vary.

Learn extra in Every day Maverick: The Chinchillas and the Gold Mine

However the preliminary try got here unstuck when two of the primary 4 animals earmarked for relocation died.

Learn extra right here: A Excessive-Stakes Chinchilla Relocation Effort Stalls

This correspondent beforehand reported that one of many two surviving chinchillas – each have been efficiently relocated – had suffered a severe leg harm however recovered. That animal was flown to Santiago for remedy, underscoring how critically Gold Fields’ executives took its situation. Not many rodents get that type of consideration within the C-suite.

“… we have now collaborated with the authorities to resolve the sanction proceedings and 18 months in the past offered a complete plan taking learnings from the preliminary relocation efforts into consideration to securely relocate the remaining estimated chinchillas,” Gold Fields mentioned.

‘This plan has now been accepted by the regulator and reaffirms our dedication to the safety, conservation and rising information of the chinchilla. Measures accredited embrace prolonged monitoring of the animals of their habitat within the operational areas, extra sources to detect chinchillas within the space, making extra pure meals out there to them through the relocation and elevating the variety of consultants implementing the rescue and relocation plan.”

So, amongst different issues, extra consultants have been introduced in to keep away from a repeat of the 2020 fiasco. Such experience might be as uncommon as a short-tailed chinchilla.

And the mine is ready to ship its first gold sooner or later within the ultimate three months of this yr.

“The resumption of the relocation programme, which Salares Norte is presently getting ready for, implies that the mining plan for Salares Norte can proceed as scheduled. Salares Norte is ready for first manufacturing in This autumn 2023,” Gold Fields mentioned.

Gold Fields spokesperson Sven Lunsche offered extra particulars.

“If we weren’t capable of relocate chinchillas from some areas, we might have needed to modify the mining plan schedule accordingly and mine different areas till we acquired permission. That’s now not required,” he advised Every day Maverick.

Gold Fields will definitely be hopeful that this time round, the relocation goes with out a hitch. The undertaking has stirred controversy and criticism from animal rights activists, particularly in Chile. In equity to Gold Fields, it has been striving to do proper by the rodents and maintains it’s advancing scientific information in regards to the species within the course of.

And Salares Norte is vital to Gold Fields’ plans to keep up and develop its manufacturing profile. It’s a high-grade ore physique with 3.5 million ounces of extractable gold, over 42 million ounces of silver and nearly 400 million kilos of copper.

The mine might be open pit and mechanised, which is firmly in keeping with Gold Fields’ technique because it spun off its labour-intensive, standard gold mines in South Africaa decade in the past into Sibanye Gold (now Sibanye-Stillwater).

So, rather a lot is at stake within the second section of Operation Chinchilla. Animal welfare activists should scent a rat, however a profitable relocation might be a win for rodents and people. DM