Part of my job is to protect birds and other wildlife against any impacts from the mine. We have set up both man-made fencing and natural foliage to help create a barrier between animals and the mine, and we use remote-controlled planes to deter birds away from the ponds.
Not all birds that visit the ponds get into trouble, but unfortunately some may become distressed and require rescue. This could be because they linger in the ponds and are affected by the toxins in the water, or become immobilised when borate and sulphate residue crystallise on their feathers. We call this ‘salting’. This is a particular problem in the summer months when the ponds hold a higher level of borates suspended in the water, and birds are more likely to be seeking a cool retreat.
Saving feathered friends
One of the challenges we face when rescuing birds is they view us as predators and will try to evade capture. So, in the case of waterfowl, their first response is to either dive under the water or swim away.
I got to thinking that if we had a remote-controlled boat with a catch net, we could more easily capture and help the distressed waterfowl. So, with the support of my team, I designed and built a watercraft that we now use to rescue birds on the ponds. It’s something I’m very proud of. There was a lot of testing and modification along the way – my wife tells people she didn’t see me for months. I was a carpenter for 20 years before I joined Rio Tinto, and I think those skills really helped me with this project.
Once we’ve rescued the birds we take them to our specially designed wildlife rescue centre, which has equipment to wash, treat and stabilise injured wildlife. The last two birds I saved were in a bad condition when I took them to the rescue centre. But you can see that the more you wash them, the better they feel and they start fighting you – which is a good sign.