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Big visitor to Rio Tinto’s mining company

15 September 2009

Fancy going to work and experiencing roaming animals as a common occurrence, what fun! Rio Tinto’s Palabora Mining Company (PMC) is one such workplace which is close to the Kruger National Park (KNP) where an inquisitive elephant bull came to visit.

The elephant was ambling along the site when he landed up between the one section of the plant and some offices. The animals are normally very tolerant of the staff and mine activities, but sometimes the interaction becomes a little too close-up and personal. The security staff were called in for this “guy”, and was escorted away to safer areas. He did make his presence known to all he encountered on his way, with head shakes and mock charges, and he eventually, indignantly went into the bush, away from prying eyes.

Elephant activities

Sometimes elephants would rip out water pipes with the greatest of ease, and drink their fill, if only they would learn to close valves after they are done, wastage would be a lot less! Most mornings would see staff members driving around huge piles of visiting cards left all over the roads, between offices and sometimes even on doorsteps of buildings. With a particularly dry winter coming to an end, animals are all over the property, looking for food and water.

There is a dam on site, close to one of the roads, that is frequently visited by elephants, where they frolic and play to their hearts’ content, after which they would go and destroy a bush or tree or two, to fuel the next visitors’ card. Many visitors to site, especially first timers, are amazed at the interaction, but even the old hands all enjoy it. Our one train bridge does bear a slogan after all – “We are not only a mine, but a wildlife sanctuary too”.

Baboons, monkeys, squirrels, waterbuck, impala, buffalo and giraffe have made themselves comfortable on the mine premises, and the odd lion warning is issued by security stdaff. There is abundant bird life, and undisturbed bush.

Roaming elephant

On a sadder note, many baboons can be seen with limbs torn off, tails lost or useless limbs, due to their interaction with machinery. The management at PMC try their utmost to protect people and animals from the inevitable, but you cannot protect everything, thus there are some injuries. Baboons can and do become a problem on occasions, and workshops and office blocks sport electronic door locks and safety doors. Many people do not like sharing their lunches or office space with baboons.

Ingenious door locks

Ingenious door locks can be seen all over. A favourite is to turn the handles upside down; it seems our primate friends have not worked that one out yet! Some doors sport two handles, and baboon proof dustbins are the order of the day, yet they manage to scrounge, scavenge and make their presence felt, some resident troops even sleep in one of the buildings on site, the lights and sounds do not seem to bother them.

Another drawback is the fact that bicycles are not allowed on site, pedestrian movement has to be controlled and motorcycles cannot enter the property after dark, our speed restriction of 60km/h in daylight, is brought down to 40km/h after sunset. Local drivers on the trains that move around site are continually warned about buffalo and elephants in a particular area to avoid accidents.

This is a glimpse of life in Phalaborwa, who can better this? Articles and photographs are welcome -e-mail.