Modern Mining: Featured News

Given all the bad news surrounding the South African mining industry in recent weeks, what with South Deep gold mine in deep trouble (it has haemorrhaged R4 billion over the past five years) and Implats announcing that it will drastically shrink its mining ‘footprint’ in the Rustenburg area, I thought my readers might appreciate hearing a ‘good news’ story in my column this month.

Arthur Tassell commentThere aren’t too many such stories around but one that has caught my attention is the role that De Beers is playing in one of the largest elephant translocations in South Africa’s history. The group has begun to transport 200 elephants across 1 500 km from its Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve (VLNR) – a property which also hosts its flagship diamond mining operation in South Africa – to Mozambique.

As I write this, the first phase of the project, which will see 60 elephants from the VLNR being relocated to the Zinave National Park in central Mozambique, is underway. According to De Beers, the remaining elephants will be moved to conservation areas that hold sufficient elephant carrying capacity within Mozambique from next year.

Although I’ve visited Venetia several times during my time as a mining journalist, I’ve never had a chance to tour the VLNR. This is a pity since it is apparently one of the finest nature reserves in the country. Adjoining the Mapungubwe National Park, it was established in the early 1990s, covers 32 000 ha and is home to a very diverse wildlife population, including rare species such as the African wild dog.

The VLNR can only healthily sustain around 60 elephants but currently has a population of more than 270. By contrast, Zinave National Park – despite having an area of over 400 000 ha – only has 60 or so, this low number being mainly a result of Mozambique’s 15-year
civil war.

De Beers is partnering with the Peace Parks Foundation, a leading ‘not-for-profit’ organisation focused on the preservation of large functional, cross-border ecosystems, in this initiative. The Foundation co-manages Zinave with Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas.

“There is no greater symbol of Africa than the majestic elephant,” comments Bruce Cleaver, CEO of the De Beers Group. “For us to be able to help secure their future in Mozambique, while also ensuring other species at our Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve can flourish, is something every employee of De Beers Group is proud of. This translocation is born of a deep sense of responsibility and is part of our wider commitment to continue to invest in new and innovative ways to protect the natural world.”

Adds Werner Myburgh, CEO of the Peace Parks Foundation: “The reintroduction of elephants to Mozambique will bring us one step closer to achieving our dream of restoring the landscape and establishing uninterrupted connectivity with seamless migration of wildlife across the parks within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.”

Apart from the VLNR, De Beers has conservation areas at its properties near Kimberley and at the Jwaneng and Orapa mines in Botswana. In all, it has a massive 200 000 ha of land under protection. According to Dr Patti Wickens, Senior Environmental Manager with the Group, for every hectare of land used for mining by the De Beers Group, six hectares are dedicated to the conservation of nature.

The efforts of De Beers demonstrate that mining and conservation are not necessarily incompatible activities, as is widely perceived, and that mining can indeed be a force for good when it comes to the environment.

Arthur Tassell

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