Operation Chinchilla Is a Go

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The short-tailed chinchilla, a high-altitude South American rodent, was hunted almost to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries for its highly prized fur. It’s now endangered, and one small colony of the species in Chile is worth far more alive than dead, skinned, and dried.The colony in question sits atop 3.5 million ounces of extractable gold, a resource set to be developed by Gold Fields, a South Africa–based mining company.Gold Fields’ CEO, Nick Holland, said at a 2017 mining conference in Cape Town that the chinchillas were one of the main obstacles to the project, but that the company would find a way to protect the colony.Big mining initiatives take years to roll out, with conservation compliance an increasingly crucial part of the package. Gold Fields’ environmental permit for the Salares Norte mining project—which has a construction price tag of more than $800 million—hinged on the company finding a way to move the chinchillas, which are protected under Chilean law. The result is a kind of mini–Noah’s Ark initiative, high in the mountains of northern Chile.But not everyone is sure the project will protect the rodents. Its success—or failure—will offer …

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