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To Get to $7B in Gold, They Have to Wrangle Rare Rodents

Ed Stoddard at Undark describes the conservation project around Chilean mine
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 23, 2020 4:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – An effort to pull 3.5 million ounces of gold from a site high in the mountains of northern Chile is expected to cost $860 million—$400,000 of which has already been spent on rodents. A colony of 25 endangered short-haired chinchillas has made a home at the site now under development by Gold Fields, as Ed Stoddard writes at Undark. To secure the deal, the South African-based gold mining company had to agree to trap and move the 25 animals previously hunted to near-extinction, which are protected under Chilean law. The project is seen as a test of how mining companies will respond to increasing pressure to limit environmental impacts, and it will be both pricey and time-consuming, stretching on for nine months from August. Some $400,000 has already been spent on non-lethal traps and population surveys. Then again, gold reserves at the mine, to be competed in 2024, are worth nearly $7 billion, per Mining.com.

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Experts will eventually attempt to capture the chinchillas in nine rocky areas over 10 days. If they're unsuccessful, the project will be halted for 20 days, to minimize disturbance, before the next 10-day attempt. The chinchillas will then be moved to 2.5 miles to a new habitat where a wire-mesh enclosure will protect them for a few weeks. They'll also be monitored with radio collars. But success isn't guaranteed. A 2015 study found "mixed results" in an effort to relocate the American pika, a chinchilla-like mammal that lives in the mountains, in the 1970s, Stoddard writes. It will be no fun for the chinchillas and "mortality/death is possible," wildlife biologist Curtis Bosson tells Stoddard. But Gold Fields is working with environmental consultants and outside researchers to minimize the damage and study the rare animals at the time. Read the full story. (Read more mining stories.)

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