Hypersalinity reduces the risk of cyanide toxicosis to insectivorous bats interacting with wastewater impoundments at gold mines Academic Article uri icon


  • Wildlife and livestock that ingest bioavailable cyanide compounds in gold mining tailings dams are known to experience cyanide toxicosis. Elevated levels of salinity in open impoundments have been shown to prevent wildlife cyanide toxicosis by reducing drinking and foraging. This finding appears to be consistent for diurnal wildlife interacting with open impoundments, however the risks to nocturnal wildlife of cyanide exposure are unknown. We investigated the activity of insectivorous bats in the airspace above both fresh (potable to wildlife) and saline water bodies at two gold mines in the goldfields of Western Australian. During this study, cyanide-bearing solutions stored in open impoundments at both mine sites were hypersaline (range=57,000-295,000 mg/L total dissolved solids (TDS)), well above known physiological tolerance of any terrestrial vertebrate. Bats used the airspace above each water body monitored, but were more active at fresh than saline water bodies. In addition, considerably more terminal echolocation buzz calls were recorded in the airspace above fresh than saline water bodies at both mine sites. However, it was not possible to determine whether these buzz calls corresponded to foraging or drinking bouts. No drinking bouts were observed in 33 h of thermal video footage recorded at one hypersaline tailings dam, suggesting that this water is not used for drinking. There is no information on salinity tolerances of bats, but it could be assumed that bats would not tolerate salinity in drinking water at concentrations greater than those documented as toxic for saline-adapted terrestrial wildlife. Therefore, when managing wastewater impoundments at gold mines to avoid wildlife mortalities, adopting a precautionary principle, bats are unlikely to drink solutions at salinity levels ≥50,000 mg/L TDS.

publication date

  • 2014