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The Link between Artisanal Mining and Wildlife Poaching: A Look at Chimanimani, Zimbabwe

The Link between Artisanal Mining and Wildlife Poaching: A Look at Chimanimani, Zimbabwe

August 18, 2014, by Norman Mukwakwami


An estimated 20 million people in over 80 countries derive their livelihoods from artisanal mining. The growing artisanal mining movement can play a key role in sustainable development of rural communities as it produces 10 percent of the global gold production, 15 to 20 percent of diamonds and 80 percent of coloured gemstones.

Artisanal mining is however notorious for environmental degradation which has made the creation of policies to formalize the activity an arduous task of weighing the needs of the current generation against those of future generations – the classic sustainable development dilemma. (Brundtland, 1987).

As shallow mineral deposits run out and environmental activists succeed in ensuring more tracts of land are preserved for biodiversity and future generations, the frontiers of mining and conservation are set to clash increasingly more and more.

At the same time that artisanal mining has been rapidly increasing in Zimbabwe, the trafficking of wildlife (whole or in part) has been rapidly increasing. The question then is: are artisanal mining and wildlife poaching related?

Gandiwa & Gandiwa (2012) discovered that artisanal mining in the Chimanimani National Park in eastern Zimbabwe increased the risk of wildlife poaching and illegal harvesting. The Park’s law enforcement records suggest there exists a linear relationship between the number of wildlife poachers arrested and the number of artisanal miners arrested. The ‘gold rush’ in Chimanimani National Park in the mid-2000s led to an increase in human population leading to possible increased poaching (Zwane, Love, Hoko, & Shoko, 2006).

A more interesting link however exists in the syndicates that facilitate the smuggling of artisan mined minerals and wildlife parts (e.g. ivory and rhino horn) to illicit markets. Both have similar smuggling structures. At the bottom of the chain are the artisanal miners and poachers who are often villagers in communities around national parks. Middle-men who buy the minerals and wildlife parts provide the miners with mercury to process their ore and the villagers with ammunition or cyanide to kill elephants or rhinos with. These middle-men then sell their contraband to local and foreign ‘barons’, men and women with established links with illicit markets and border officials to facilitate the smuggling out of the country.

Research by the Centre for Natural Resource Governance in eastern Zimbabwe shows that middle-men often trade in both minerals and wildlife parts provided they can find a buyer for the contraband. Research results however suggest that ‘barons’ are more specialized and often deal in only one mineral or wildlife part. Middle-men operating in eastern Zimbabwe sell minerals (mainly gold, diamonds and tantalite) to Zimbabwean and Lebanese ‘barons’ based in Mutare, Zimbabwe and Beira, Mozambique. Ivory is more often sold to Zimbabwean and Chinese nationals in the nations’ capital, Harare.

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance has repeatedly called for the formalization of artisanal mining in Zimbabwe. By formalizing the sector, Government exercise better control over access to land for miners thereby ensuring that protected areas are not adversely affected by artisanal mining activities. Through formalization, the government can buy gold from artisanal and small-scale miners through Fidelity Printers and stem the flow of gold to the same black market which has been responsible for the trafficking of wildlife parts.

It is important to note that the demand for illegally mined minerals is clearly strong. The smuggling of minerals produced by artisanal miners across borders has been identified as one of the main contributors to illicit financial flows. The Mines and Minerals Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) estimates that US$600 million worth of gold is smuggled out of the country every year. A Zimbabwean non-profit, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance discovered that one artisanal mining community in Penhalonga was responsible for the outflow of $1.7 million worth of gold annually giving credence to the MMCZ’s estimates. The activity must be profitable for illicit traffickers to incur the risk of transporting minerals illegally.

In a classic paper on the economic theory of illegal goods, Becker, Grossman and Murphy argue that if the social value of a good is lower than the private value of a good, it is more optimal to tax that good than to declare it illegal, given the substantial costs and low probability of success associated with policing. This is true of Zimbabwe where the criminalization of artisanal mining has failed to deter would-be artisanal miners. While Becker et al were examining goods such as narcotics, which generally do not have a legal competitor, it is still critical that artisanal mining be formalized. Further research is critical to understand the relationship between artisanal mining and wildlife poaching in order to inform government policy. Failure to do so will result in uninformed decisions that might exacerbate poaching and artisanal mining in protected areas.


Brundtland, G. H. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Oslo: United Nations.
Mukwakwami N. (2013). Illicit Financial Flows in Zimbabwe’s Artisanal Mining Sector: A Case Study of Penhalonga. Centre for Natural Resource Governance.
Gandiwa E. & Gandiwa P. (2012). Biodiversity Conservation versus Artisanal Gold Mining: A Case Study of Chimanimani National Park, Zimbabwe. Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa (Volume 14, No.6, 2012).
Zwane, N., Love, D., Hoko, Z., & Shoko, D. (2006). Managing the impact of gold panning activities within the context of integrated water resources management planning in the Lower Manyame Sub-Catchment, Zambezi Basin, Zimbabwe. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 31(15-16), 848-856.
Becker, G.; Grossman, M; Murphy, K. (1994). An Empirical Analysis of Cigarette Addiction. The American Economic Review, Vol. 84, No. 3. (Jun., 1994), pp. 396-418. (Link)

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