Who would have thought a few tiny burrows, most measuring less than 3cm, would generate so much attention, frustration and excitement.
On the 6th of March 2012, an Interested and Affected Party (that we call an I&AP) working in the area, who cycles to work, noted that the Exxaro Grootegeluk mine contractors had commenced with site clearing for the construction of the temporary bypass roads, in an area where he had seen some spiders. He is an avid Arachnid enthusiast, so he immediately contacted the NCC Environmental Team on a nearby project, informing them that he had noted several horned baboon spiders (Ceratogyrus darlingi) and golden-brown baboon spiders (Augacephalus breyeri) in the road reserve where site clearing had commenced. These long-living invertebrates are not endangered, but they are protected under Chapter 4 of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act. No. 10 of 2004).
Within minutes, I received a call from my NCC colleague, Ilse Coop, who shared this valuable information with me, as I was the Environmental Control Officer (ECO) for the contractors conducting the clearing. I can still recall the satisfying feeling of my racing heart when I contacted the Exxaro Senior Environmental Specialist and requested that all activities stop until further investigation. Exxaro did it, they stopped all work immediately!
The days following the discovery were chaos. The daily cost of a site being closed is enormous, so you can imagine the pressure that we were under! I was on the phone constantly with specialists and government to try and make sense of what the next step would be. Exxaro was able to produce some methodology for the capture and relocation of the spiders with guidance from several spider specialists, Ian Engelbrecht, Dr. Ansie Dippenaar-Schoeman and Dr. Dawid Jacobs.
While I was extremely excited about rescuing these spiders, the mine and project managers were stunned that work had to be stopped because of a few spiders. The spiders turned out to be approximately 300 individuals on the Nelson Mandela road and 269 on the Kuipersbult road. A total of 800 burrows were dug up in search for spiders. This exercise cost Exxaro Grootegeluk mine approximately R450 000 to date, but it was an invaluable project in terms of the conservation and protection of the Horned baboon spider and the Golden-brown baboon spider.
Unfortunately this is where NCC’s involvement with this project stopped, as local government requested that my involvement in the project be limited, to keep my independence from Exxaro intact (a requirement of an Environmental Control Officer). I have been following the progress from the sidelines, and ensuring that local government is kept informed.
Exxaro has incorporated the screening for baboon spiders at all new development areas into their internal procedures to ensure that in the future all spiders are relocated without project delays and without any harm to the spiders. Upon watching the insert that was featured on Carte Blanche on the 15th September 2013, I couldn’t help feeling proud of my involvement in the project, especially due to its success.