High levels of activity of bats at gold mining water bodies: Implications for compliance with the International Cyanide Management Code Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Wildlife and livestock are known to visit and interact with tailings dam and other wastewater impoundments at gold mines. When cyanide concentrations within these water bodies exceed a critical toxicity threshold, significant cyanide-related mortality events can occur in wildlife. Highly mobile taxa such as birds are particularly susceptible to cyanide toxicosis. Nocturnally active bats have similar access to uncovered wastewater impoundments as birds; however, cyanide toxicosis risks to bats remain ambiguous. This study investigated activity of bats in the airspace above two water bodies at an Australian gold mine, to assess the extent to which bats use these water bodies and hence are at potential risk of exposure to cyanide. Bat activity was present on most nights sampled during the 16-month survey period, although it was highly variable across nights and months. Therefore, despite the artificial nature of wastewater impoundments at gold mines, these structures present attractive habitats to bats. As tailings slurry and supernatant pooling within the tailings dam were consistently well below the industry protective concentration limit of 50 mg/L weak acid dissociable (WAD) cyanide, wastewater solutions stored within the tailings dam posed a minimal risk of cyanide toxicosis for wildlife, including bats. This study showed that passively recorded bat echolocation call data provides evidence of the presence and relative activity of bats above water bodies at mine sites. Furthermore, echolocation buzz calls recorded in the airspace directly above water provide indirect evidence of foraging and/or drinking. Both echolocation monitoring and systematic sampling of cyanide concentration in open wastewater impoundments can be incorporated into a gold mine risk-assessment model in order to evaluate the risk of bat exposure to cyanide. In relation to risk minimisation management practices, the most effective mechanism for preventing cyanide toxicosis to wildlife, including bats, is capping the concentration of cyanide in tailings discharged to open impoundments at 50 mg/L WAD.

publication date

  • 2014