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SOS Rhino : In the News : Mining Project in Limpopo Has the Fur Flying Among Wildlife Activists

Mining Project in Limpopo Has the Fur Flying Among Wildlife Activists


Business Day (Johannesburg)
June 18, 2003
Posted to the web June 18, 2003
Sharda Naidoo

CONSERVATIONISTS are lobbying to put an end to an Australian platinum mining operation near the Limpopo's Nylsvley Nature Reserve, which boasts 20% of SA's flood plains and is home to one of the largest diversities of bird s in southern Africa.

They argue that mining development in the area would be the "death" of Nylsvley, the jewel in the crown of one of Limpopo's 54 state-owned reserves. It attracts about 10000 tourists a year.

Pan Palladium has a prospecting permit for exploration in the Volspruit and Zoetveld areas, which are situated along the Groot Nyl riverbed and 70km flood plain on the 4000ha reserve of prime wetland and savanna.

The Nyl flood plain is the largest inland plain of its type in SA, extending from the Modimolle Mountain near Modimolle (formerly Nylstroom) in the south to Mokopane, about 60km north, and reaching 16000ha when fully inundated.

The plain is unique to SA in that it attracts more than 80000 waterbirds in the wet season. The nearest flood plains of comparative size and species diversity occur much further north in Botswana and Zambia.

" It is therefore critical that we ensure the survival of this very important resource," said Herman van Dijk of Friends of Nylsvley, an affiliate of Birdlife SA and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of SA.

The Limpopo minerals and energy department, in a letter to the conservationists, played down the threat of exploration on the flood plain. The department said Pan Palladium's closest drilling activity was "within 100m" from the flood plain and would not have a heavy impact on the Klein Nyl, Groot Nyl, Olifantsspruit and Middelfonteinspruit catchment areas.

But Van Dijk said if the Australian firm was granted full mining rights, the survival of the 30year-old reserve and its diverse and highly complex ecosystem would be threatened.

Pan Palladium has temporarily stopped activities on the site, while an environmental impact assessment report is conducted. However, once the company begins full-scale exploration, Van Dijk said they would drill into the water table, resulting in the Nyl River being polluted.

" This will have serious consequences as the river runs through the reserve and if the flood plains get destroyed, we can say goodbye to any conservancy development and migrating birdlife ," Van Dijk said.

The reserve which lies between Modimolle and Mokgoo'ong (formerly Naboomspruit) is renowned for its underlying geological formations that support the plant and animal communities.

Known as the N1 for about 430 species of birdlife, the reserve is the only place in southern Africa where certain species can breed without restriction. Its five bird hides make for spectacular viewing during the wet season, when the reserve is transformed into a kingdom park for migrating waterbirds.

It is also home to 70 species of mammals, 58 reptile species, 16 fish species and an estimated 10000 species of insect, including most of SA's dragonflies. It is also the only place in southern Africa where two vegetation types, the wet savanna and the dry acacia, meet.

It is a breeding ground for about 60 roan antelope, a rare species of game, which the reserve relies on for most of its income. The reserve sells its roan to other game reserves in SA at R120000 a piece. Van Dijk said mining would ruin this lucrative trade as the roan bred along the flood plains and drew water from the Nyl river.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its subsidiary, the Green Trust, is also opposed to the mining operation as they have invested R332000 over the past eight years to revamp and rehabilitate parts of the reserve.

Lesley Richardson of WWF said: "Any commercial development will jeopardise the functioning of the ecosystem. Certainly, extracting water from the rivers or catchment areas will have a huge impact. We would like to see the environmental impact assessment report done in a transparent way."

The reserve was listed as a Ramsar site, an internationally important habitat for waterfowl, in July 1998.

Said van Dijk: "Being a Ramsar site is serious. It has many implications, not only for the waterbirds, but all the inhabitants of the flood plain and the suppliers of water. It is one of the reasons why we continue to lobby for the appropriate management of the reserve to ensure the land is well cared for and that new unlawful factories or mining operations don't suddenly appear."

A spokesman for Pan Palladium was not available for comment yesterday.

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