Working with our partners - Sepon mine considers biodiversity offset plan

A partner organisation to the Mekong Water Dialogues is implementing an offset plan that has the potential to maintain levels of biodiversity around the mine where they operate.

Field officer collects samples Photo: WCS Lao Program

Miners are usually interested mainly in rock samples. However, over the last year MMG LXML Sepon (the gold and copper mine located in Savannakhet province, Lao PDR) has also been collecting samples of something rather different – elephant dung.

Elephants, gibbons, tigers and several other important animal species can be found in the eastern part Savannakhet province. Collection of dung samples is just one of the methods that have been used to estimate animal populations and habitats in the area surrounding the mine.

This field research has been coordinated by WCS (the Wildlife Conservation Society), with whom the mine has worked on a variety of projects since 2006. The work recently culminated in the production of a draft ‘biodiversity offset plan’ which is now being considered by MMG LXML Sepon.

Biodiversity refers to the variety of plant and animal species within a defined area. The biodiversity offset concept is that, if a company’s activities are likely to affect an area of biodiversity value, then activities to compensate for this can be undertaken, to protect and enrich the plant and animal species beyond the places where it operates. An offset plan therefore provides a potential opportunity to maintain - or even improve - levels of biodiversity.

Developing the offset plan involved identifying species of animals in the area, mapping their habitats and evaluating threats to them. Locations for potential conflict were identified so that appropriate measures could be designed.

Around 30 animal species were identified as potential candidates for conservation, including a number of IUCN-listed endangered species. Their presence was confirmed by review from previous assessments, sightings recorded by a camera trap, or through conversations with local hunters.

“None of the work that has been done is required under Lao law – rather, we have undertaken it voluntarily. We have done this because the mine is next to areas with globally significant biodiversity, and because local people’s livelihoods are so closely connected with the environment,” said Jeremy Taylor, MMG LXML Sepon’s Environment Manager.

To date, MMG LXML Sepon has spent more than US$500,000 on biodiversity related projects.

While mining operations, which commenced in 2002, started in an area of moderate to low biodiversity value, there are areas of much higher value close to the mine. Mine workers and local community members have often seen evidence that some animals, especially elephants, sometimes traverse areas of village cultivation and parts of the mining lease area. It is important to protect these animals from the effects of human activity - and to protect humans from some of the larger animals.

An MMG-funded WCS project to protect the Siamese crocodile, which began in 2008, has demonstrated that conservation efforts can be effective. In May of this year, a crocodile nest was discovered. The nest contained 20 eggs, which is highly significant as there are believed to be only 100 Siamese crocodiles left in the wild in Lao PDR. The project has successfully won the cooperation of local communities in protecting the crocodile’s habitat and any eggs that are found.

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