Illegal mining in Chimanimani National Reserve

Apr 2, 2009

Mission: Identifying areas of illegal gold mining and other important issues requiring the attention of reserve staff
Date: 2 April 2009
Requesting organisation: Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) Unit of the Ministry of Tourism

Location: Chimanimani  National Reserve, Mozambique
Pilot: Craig McKenzie

In January 2009 The Bateleurs was approached by the Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) Unit of the Ministry of Tourism, Mozambique, wanting assistance with a flight over the Chimanimani National Reserve.

They wanted to identify areas where illegal gold mining was occurring, to estimate the extent of the problem, and to identify other important issues requiring the attention of reserve staff.  This mission took a considerable amount of planning and was eventually flown in early April by Bateleurs pilot, Craig McKenzie.

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This is a photograph of all participants on the Chimanimani mission.  Bateleurs pilot, Craig McKenzie is second from the right, and this is his post-flight report:

It was a real privilege to fly this mission

“Following extensive communication between myself and Madyo Couto of the Ministry of Tourism in Mozambique, the Chimanamani mission got off to a difficult start.  First there was a battle with the Mozambique CAA to issue a simple flight clearance:  despite their promises to issue the clearance first thing on Monday morning, the clearance came through too late so I was compelled to stay over at the Kruger Park.  Secondly, we had earlier (fortunately) established that avgas was not in fact available at Chimoyo, so the planned routing had to be revised; and thirdly, just to jolly things up a little, a few days before the planned date Cyclone Izilda arrived from the Mozambique channel, the after effects of which led to another day’s delay.

On the 2nd April there was still low cloud with winds and scattered showers, but by early afternoon the clouds had lifted and were visible only on the high peaks of the Chimanimani mountains.  After refuelling at Beira routing was to Chimoyo airport to meet the Mozambique crew. There were five observers led by Madyo Couto, including the reserve managers and warden, while some of the Mozambique team had come up from Maputo. Since further delays were not possible, we were very fortunate that visibility was good enough to be able to proceed.
After the briefing we departed for the Chimanimani Reserve, about 20 minutes flying time to the South West. The mountains are nothing short of spectacular; rising from around 2000ft to over 6000ft in horizontal distances of less than 5km. Since the mission was focused on observing the riverine systems, which of course take the shortest route down the mountain, the altitude changes and the cloudy peaks provided a unique challenge.

There is very limited road access into the Reserve and none on the higher reaches where the mining is taking place – so the aerial perspective was invaluable to the team. We observed some access routes used by miners and also saw miners in action, having identified a number of sites where damage is very visible. Photographs and GPS positions were taken, and with the information gathered, the team will be able to plan a swoop on the illegal miners using a foot patrol which will include the security forces.  Best of luck to them – it’s going to be quite a hike, but it is certainly a beautiful and pristine area worthy of all efforts to preserve it.
* Flight time from Chimoyo and back was 2.4 Hours 
* Total time for the mission was 15.45 Hours
* If other pilots need info on flying in Mozambique I will be happy to share.
It was a real privilege to have been able to assist with this mission.”

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This photograph records a site where illegal mining is occurring.

Report by Madyo Couto

“Despite the weather being cloudy, the team managed to do roughly two hours of flying over the main areas of Chimanimani National Reserve, including: 

* Mountainous areas along the border with Zimbabwe;
* Along the major water courses;
* Along the eastern boundary of the Reserve;
* Over the Moribane Forest;
* Over the northern area of the Reserve (Mount Tandara); and
* Over Mount Tsetsserra.
During the mission it was possible to verify the incredible conservation value of this area, having spotted numerous montane forests and vast grasslands with no apparent signs of degradation. Along certain rivers on the mountainous parts of the Reserve the team spotted areas where illegal gold mining is occurring. With the support of a GPS, the coordinates of these areas were recorded.
During the mission the team counted about 30 gold miners operating within the Reserve, with no sign of apparent camps. The impact of the gold miners’ activity is easily visible from the air due to the pools that they open along the banks of the water courses. The gold mining is occurring mainly in three areas of the Reserve.  Apart from the impact of mining activity no other habitat degradation was visible from the air.
By providing the opportunity for an aerial perspective of the issues facing the Reserve, The Bateleurs has enabled the management team to collect important information that will help guide future actions for the preservation of the natural resources of the Chimanimani National Reserve.”

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