Important Note: The author: Vincent Pardieu is an employee of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Laboratory Bangkok since Dec 2008. Any views expressed on this website - and in particular any views expressed by Vincent Pardieu - are the authors' opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GIA or GIA Laboratory Bangkok . GIA takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content on this website nor is GIA liable for any mistakes or omissions you may encounter. GIA is in particular not screening, editing or monitoring the content on this website and has no possibility to remove, screen or edit any content.
About Conservation Gemology. org
This website is home for:
Vincent Pardieu (B.Sc., GGA, G.G.). Vincent is "Supervisor, Field Gemology" at GIA Laboratory Bangkok. He is a gemologist specialized on "Origin determination of gemstones" and for the past 10 years has focus on visiting gem mining areas in Asia and Africa. His writtings can also be found in www.fieldgemology.org
It is also home of several of VP regular traveling companions. Among them are Jean Baptiste Senoble, Lou Pierre Bryl and Stephane Jacquat who were with VP in the field in Mozambique when the concept behind this website was suddenly making a lot of sense.
It is also home for another friend with a genuine passion for gemstones, conservation and development issues:
Laurent E. Cartier is a geologist and gemmologist based in Switzerland. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences on the sustainability of marine pearl farming, but also continues to work on gemstones. His current projects on pearl farming can be found at www.sustainablepearls.org
“Conservation Gemology” is very similar in many aspects to its twin-website: www.fieldgemology.org but www.conservatiopngemology.org will not focus on presenting traditional field expedition reports. Instead you will find here blogs and articles with a focus on the conservation aspects related to gem mining in the areas visited by the author.
What is gemology?
Gemology is by definition the knowledge about gems; it is fascinating to the author as it is covering many aspects like science but also history, geography, trade and art. Most websites and publications are dealing with technical and scientific aspects of gemstone identification or trade aspects but other aspects like history, geography and art should not be neglected as they are really interesting and useful to understand gems, their trade and the reasons why they fascinate people.
What about conservation?
Conservation is basically an ethic of resource use. Its focus is upon maintaining the health of our planet in order for the future generations to be able to continue to enjoy it. Conservation does not means keeping away people out from nature, but its goals are to help men to find sustainable ways to use natural resources for future generations to be able to continue benefiting from these natural resources.
Conservation and Gemology?
To associate "Conservation" and "Gemology" might look unusual as gemstone mining is not really sustainable: Indeed a gemstone which was mined will never be mined again. Nevertheless, in a world where conservation issues become day after day more and more serious and where more and more people are getting conserned about issues dealing with the future of our planet, many people inside the gemstone industry but also some people just enjoying gems show an increasing interest in the origin of these beautiful gems and are bring to think about issues regarding the way gems are produced nowadays.
Thanks to the fact that in many cases at least for rubies, sapphires and emeralds, origin determination of gemstones is in most cases possible, then people have some information about the places where gemstones were mined. Recent events like the US and European ban on "Burmese rubies" have shown that the idea about origin and origin determination might, we like it or not, going now beyond the simple idea of romance.
As the author could see during the last 10 years traveling to gem mining areas in Asia and Africa many gem mining area are truly beautiful.
Gemstones can be found sometimes within areas dedicated to conservation. With East Africa, a region famous worldwide for its national parks, beconing more and more a major source of colored gemstones, thus it might be interesting to think about a way for gemstone mining to be an ally of conservation, instead to be one more thread people interesting in the conservation of these beautiful areas will have to face: If the arrival of hundreds of illegal miners can be a disaster for a protected area, on the other hand a well managed ethical gem mining operation concerned about conservation issues could help to finance conservation programs which could benefit to the whole area including its local population.
Visiting such gem mining areas, and in particular a new ruby mining area located inside the Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique, I was aksed by conservationists working for the reserve if I could help.
Since my childhood in countryside France I'm deeply interested in nature and conserned about conservation. The fact is that during the last 10 years I was given the chance to travel and to visit many gemstone producing areas where i could see some interesting things and many things which could have been avoided. I decided then to build this website as a tool to help people working in conservation and others working in the gemstone industry to understand that they might benefit a lot working with each other.
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Should the Niassa lions be afraid of gemstones?
To illustrate that question the author choosed to place on the top banner of Conservation Gemology a lioness and a blue star sapphire. The first to remember our adventures trying to visit a new ruby mining area located inside the Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique and the second as a symbol of luck, faith and hope.
May be the Niassa Lioness should not be afraid about the gem, but it probably could be conserned about the people getting a gem fever and coming to Niassa mining gemstones.
The whole question is about people as this is what the gem trade is all about: People. If the people mining there are conserned about conservation, then the lioness has nothing to be worried about. But if not, then gem mining areas in Niassa might become very hostile areas for Niassa lions and a serious consern for conservationists trying to protect this area for the future generations.
Could gems found in areas dedicated to conservation be a chance for conservationists?"
These are important question at least for people like Dr. Anabela Rodrigues and Vernon Booth from the Niassa National Reserve are asking themselves during that Winter 2009 while the author is working on this website.
It is an interesting question question which can be applied to the whole region where gems are found in areas dedicated to conservation.
Could the gemstone industry become an ally of conservationists to protect the gems of the living world that are truly National Parks and the unique East African Wildlife?
Could gems bring some sustainable job opportunities for the local population to help them to develop and protect Niassa for their own benefit and the benefit of the rest of the planet?
This is what conservation gemology is about.
You will then find here some blogs and article about gem mining and conservation. We hope that you will find them interesting and useful.
All the best,
Vincent Pardieu, December 15th 2009.
Index page: Vincent Pardieu's Blog
About the Author
About me : How did a countryside Frenchman became a "Shameless Travel Addicted Gemologist and Conservationist"? ( Under construction)
Ocotber 3rd 2012: One of my friends, a gem miner in Madagascar, sent me few days ago an email telling me that he met there the author of a very interesting report on the issues related with the ruby and sapphire rush in Didy and more widely the issues associated with ASM (Artisanal and Small scale Mining) and conservation in Madagascar.
The report is from ASM-Pace, a partnership between Estelle Levin Limited and the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to address the environmental impacts of artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) in some of the world's most important ecosystems. Interestingly the program is funded by the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, World Bank’s Programme on Forests (PROFOR), WWF Netherlands, WWF USA, WWF DRC, Africa Biodiversity and Conservation Group (ABCG), and with the logistical support of WWF’s Central Africa Regional Programme Office (WWF CARPO)...
The Madagascar case study has an interesting chapter on what happened in Didy from Aoril to June 2012 (from pages 73 to 75), and the report is nicely illustrated with some aerial photos provided by Tom Cushman. The report covers also what was going on in other parts of the country where sapphires are found like:
- around Ilakaka were gems are found since 1999 in an extended area including a small part of the Isalo and most of the the Zombitse - Vohibasia protected areas,
- near Ambondromifehy where blue yellow and greeen sapphires are mined since 1994 in an area covering a part of the Ankaranana protoected area
and it report also about what they saw near Andranondambo, where the first commercial quality blue sapphires were found in Madagascar in 1992.
People interested in gemstones and conservation will probably interested to read that case study. Furthermore the rest of the website including some other case study (about Liberia and Gabon) of the ASM-Pace.org website, including some other case study about Liberia and Gabon is also worth reading.
Here is a new expedition report that might interest people interested in gemstones and in conservation:
In April 2012, Philippe Ressigeac, a gem merchant recently graduated from GIA Thailand and living in Ilakaka (Madagascar) informed me about the discovery of a new sapphire deposit in Madagascar. His partner Marc Noverraz just told him that blue sapphire and also fine rubies were reportedly found near the town of Ambatondrazaka, a rice farming center located between Madagascar capital Antananarivo and Andilamena, a gem producing region famous for its rubies. The next day Nirina Rakotosaona, a Malagasy miner the author met several time in Ilakaka, confirmed this time from Andilamena the discovery and provided me some additional details about the stones he saw that convinced us that I had to find as soon as possible a plane ticket to Madagascar.
There was according to Nirina one serious issue about that deposit: It was it seems located in an area located between two National parks and according to him it was not sure yet if mining would be possible there. According to him, the new deposit was found by people working for a timber cutting company who were also searching for gold in the forest. That was something to be expected with the current high prices for gold. According to Nirina the deposit was producing unbelievable stones, that was possibly the new Ilakaka that most gem miners in Madagascar were waiting for. But the author was suddently thinking that this discovery could also be also the serious conflict between conservation and gemstone mining he was afraid to hear about since his adventure in Niassa in 2009...
"Should Madagascar’s unique biodiversity like this lemur be afraid of the arrival of thousands of gem miners in the forest near Didy? Sadly the most likely answer is yes as conservation friendly gem mining techniques and concepts likes conservation gems are still mostly nice ideas. Indeed on site, in the jungle it is to be expected that illegal gem mining will remain and even probably spread over the entire area. More than ever conservationists and members of the gem trade should consult with each other to find realistic solutions that would benefit everybody. Photo: modified from www.helpsimus.org"
Discover here the extensive GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE35 Expedition Report to Didy, Madagascar.
This expedition report was published on GIA Laboratory Bangkok website (here and here) and also on GIA's main website: www.gia.edu
Here are also the other previous publications (much less extensive) from the author about this new discovery near Didy:
On May 8th 2012 the GIA sent around the world its May 2012 G&G eBrief containing a short concise expedition report from that FE34 field expedition to Didy signed by Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada), Nirina Rakotosaona (Madagascar), Marc Noverraz (Switzerland) and the author. It is available here at the G&G eBrief archive
A more extensive report about rubies and sapphire from Didy (Madagascar) was also published in the Summer 2012, Volume 48 Issue 2 of Gems & Gemology magazine. in the Gem News International.
In July 2012 a short expedition report about Didy was published in the TGJTA (Thai Gem & Jewelry Traders Association) newsletter. You can get the story here.
Hoping that you have found this blog and the expedition report published on GIA websites interesting.
August 2012: Laurent Cartier informed me of a recent publication he had on pearl farming related to environmental issues: Do you want a cleaner ocean? Well, a nice idea could be the promotion of pearls...
Here is an interesting article by Laurent Cartier and Saleem Ali on the subject. The fact is that to grow fine pearls oysters need to be healthy. To have healthy pearls we need a healthy ocean. As the author saw when he visited a pearl farming area in Megui archipelago (Burma) in December 2007, succesful pearls farming is performed in wonderful pristine environment as these are the condition nevessary for fine quality cultured pearls to be grown. Promoting pearls farming is thus a way to motivate people to keep the sea clean as with an archipelago with clean water revenues from pearl farming can be obtained. Furthermore as oysters can be seen as natural filters for the sea, the oyster from pearl farm contribute to a cleaner sea.
In September 2009 Vincent Pardieu was on his way to visit and study a new ruby deposit in the Niassa bush of Mozambique. He and his team were detained for three long and tough days by park rangers who were controlling access to the illegal ruby mining site threatening the Niassa National Reserve, one of the largest and most remote parts of Africa dedicated to conservation. In May 2008, Laurent Cartier visited sapphire mines within Ankarana National Park in northern Madagascar. Although illegal, miners are still operating within the boundaries of the Ankarana Park over a decade since the discovery of this deposit. These encounters led the authors to explore how conservation and the gemstone trade could find opportunities to benefit from each other. Does gemstone mining have to be in competition with environmental conservation? We think not. But achieving this requires that the realities of gemstone mining and the trade be fully taken into account...
Tsavorite, is a green grossular garnet which name was associated by geologist Campbell Bridges to the Tsavo National Park. Such association could be a great opportunity to promote and to fund conservation in Tsavo. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok
Few days ago the author put for the first time in his life his feet in South America as he attended the 14th ICA congress. In the following blog once is not the rule, it will not be about the author and some friends going on an expedition in an exotic gem mining location around the world. To the inverse, it is about a congress where the author was asked to give a presentation. As in Panyu (China) in 2009, Dubai (United Arab Emirates) in 2007 and Bangkok (Thailand) in 2005, the ICA congress taking place once every two years are not really something that could be qualified as "field gemology" but it was nevertheless about traveling, meeting gem people and learning from new experiences and encounters.
The congress was cozy and comfortable; it was taking place in Copacabana beach. This time the congress was dedicated to "Ethical Mining and Fair Trade, certification challenges from mines to market" and on the following photos you will not see the author dressed like an Afghan or like a guy ready to go to the African bush...
"Last minute preparation of the author presentation..." The day before his presentation the author was cought still working on his presentation by the official ICA photographer while his neighbor Hanco Zwaan looks more focus on what is going on on the stage. Photo: ICA, 2011
The congress was very interesting regarding many aspects: Brazil has some very strict environmental laws compared to many other colored gemstone producing countries and several Brazilian presentations were very interesting. The author particularly appreciated the conclusions of Marcello Ribeiro presentation:
"In mining, more money can go to the ground than come out of it. So, you should not act as a treasure hunter, but as an investor, managing risks in pursuit of profitability."
That was reminding the author of the words he was told in 2005 by Campbell Bridges while he was visiting his tsavorite mine near Tsavo in Kenya:
"For a gem mining operation to be successful you need to master three things: The geology, as you need to understand where are the gems, the mining engineering as you need to find a safe and profitable way to mine these gems and the security as you cannot afford to be stolen your production. If you fail on any of these 3 points: You mining operation will be a loosing money operation..."
"ICA Vice president Jean Claude Michelou, speaking to the author and Philippe Scordia from Dior" Photo: ICA, 2011
The author also particularly appreciated some other presentations like the one from an Ian Harebotle from Gemfields. Gemfields is one of the largest colored gemstone mining companies in the world. Being big means that, potentially they are a target for some activists. Aware of that fact they have adopted a proactive strategy and are one of the leading gemstones mining companies regarding fair trade and conservation issues. The company while doing its best to be profitable is also supporting several interesting programs about development and conservation in association with the World Land Trust. The author found the "Emeralds for Elephants" program particularly interesting as here gems are used to promote and finance conservation. The success of that operation might motivate other members of the gem trade to consider also associating their gems with conservation efforts...
That aspect was the main subject of the author own presentation "Fair Trade and Conservation: “When origin matters". In that presentation the author acknowledge that if fair trade is a very interesting concept for non-durable products, with products like colored gemstone the concept has some major limitations particularly because gemstones, unlike bananas or coffee, are a durable product.
Indeed most of the gemstones currently in the stock in the safes of the gem merchants, the jewelers or in the jewelry boxes of ladies around the world were mined more than 3 years ago. Furthermore many gemstones found in auction houses were probably mined tens or even possibly hundreds years ago.
That idea was given to the author about 10 years ago during a discussion with a Parisian gem merchant while the author, then a young wannabe gem trader, was trying to see if he could build a business with fair trade gems. That merchant words were not really what I expected, I remember to have been quite stunned by them and few days after that discussion I decided to explore other possibilities to start something in association with gems. His words were more or less:
"Well Vincent, I will be honest with you: I don't want to promote Fair Trade: The reason is quite simple: Most of the stones in my stock like these Mughal emeralds (that are probably more than 300 years old) are old stock. Of course I've no information about the producer or the miner... They are probably dead for centuries. So promoting your stones as Fair Trade might just make people think that my other stones, that cannot comply to fair trade rules, are may be bad... This is not an idea I want to put in the head of my customers. And I don't want to get everyday people asking me for Fair Trade emeralds: I don't have any in my stock. And even if I wanted I need first to sell what I have in my inventory..."
The Parisian merchant was right on spot as if most of the bananas today available in our fruit markets were probably grown less than few months ago, only a small percentage of the colored gemstones existing today were mined by people that are still alive. Asking the colored gemstone industry to make efforts on fair trade issues means somewhere to put a lot of pressure on a very small percentage of the stones currently in the trade while you will have difficulties to get support from the people with stock full of old stones...
Of course most people agree that it is important to improve the working conditions of the gem miners, but a good question might be the following: Is it fair to ask the miners working today to do alone all the work required for the gemstone industry to looks good and save the planet? Or may be we could find some ways for the gems mined in the past to participate in the process? Could we find a way to interest people like the Parisian jeweller I met to participate in some efforts to make the situation around gem mining areas better?
"The author giving his presentation about Conservation and Origin" Photo: ICA, 2011
Traveling in Niassa to visit a new ruby deposit in 2009 the author spent 3 days under arrest in the Niassa bush. During this long hours and the following days and months working on Mozambique rubies, he spent a lot of time communicating with conservationists in charge of Niassa and brainstorming with them about conservation and gem mining. It woke up something that was a little bit sleepy for many years inside the author who started to think seriously to think about conservation and gemology. Because if origin for gemstones matters, then what is going on where the gems are produce obviously matters. From these days www.conservationgemology.org was born.
The author was then introducing the concept of "Conservation Gemstones" as something possibly more adapted to the gem trade than "Fair Trade Gemstones": We could imagine that any gemstone, even mined several hundreds years ago could be used to promote and finance good ideas.
Technically it could be quite simple to put in place: An individual gemstone dealer or jeweler could decide to start using his gemstones to promote and finance this or that good idea associated with conservation. We could imagine a jewelry designer with a passion for lions creating a jewelry collection using Mozambique rubies willing to support the work of Dr. Colleen and Keith Begg for their Niassa Lion Project. On a larger scale some African gem trading association could find interesting to collaborate with conservationists in East Africa on a joint project using gemstones from East Africa to support East African National Parks and as the same time to using the fame of these national parks to promote gems of African origin. In fact it does not have to deal only with conservation: We could imagine people deciding to use their gems to support some projects about the education of children in this or that gem mining area. In such case all gems could be useful, not only those that are extracted today...
"GIA time" During that congress, 3 speakers from GIA (Andy Lucas, Robert Weldon and the author) were invited to give presentations. It was interesting to see that from three different perspectives, we were both providing more or less the same message. Photo: ICA, 2011
The fact is that the issue of ethical and fair trade are not as simple as they look. Simple ideas are sometimes very complicated to become realities. The presentation by ICA Vice President Jean Claude Michelou was interesting as it shows how complex is the supply chain from mine to market and thus how difficult it is to change the world into a perfect or even more modestly into a better one.
Another presentation was in that sense of great interest in the author opinion: It was the presentation by Douglas Hucker from AGTA about how the trade was able restore public confidence in Tanzanite after the suggestion by some articles few weeks after 9/11 that there was a link between tanzanite smuggling and terrorism. The trade was able to react efficiently and prove that these suggestions were not based on facts and took measures to ensure the legitimacy of the supply chain and protect it from criminal abuse.
The idea that what is happening at the origin matters regularly came back in other people presentations and not all the time as problems but also as opportunities: Steve Bennett from Rock Color ltd and Gems TV said that by working directly with miners whenever possible, he is not only able to track gems from the source, but also track the people who bring it to market, and share their stories. According to him:
"The more you tell, the more you sell".
Of course all depends of the story you have to tell. Then the obvious next step might be to do the right things to get better stories to tell. Conservation gemstones? The author proposal at the end of his own presentation:
"Associate yourself with the good guy today in order not to be associated with the bad guys tomorrow",
was very similar to the final advice given by his colleagues from GIA Andy Lucas and Robert Weldon at the end of their own presentations:
“Do the right thing in all that you do. You will know it, your supplier will know it, and so will your customers".
"Men in Black?" Left to right: Etienne Marvillet, Vincent pardieu, Flavie Isatelle, Thomas Hainschwang, ICA Vice president Jean Claude Michelou and Philippe Scordia. ICA congress are great place to meet people, network, exchange ideas and initiate projects. Photo: ICA, 2011
Now many nice words, interesting ideas and succesful examples were heard and discuss about during these few nice days days in Rio de Janeiro. The author hopes that it will motivate and help people in the gem trade to make things better. Of course: Rome was not built in one day. The author knows that... but hopefully one stone at a time, things might go in the right direction.
The author would like then to thanks the ICA and the people from Brazil to have organized such a nice event in Rio de Janeiro. It was a pleasure to have participated and I hope that this would have been useful for ICA, the GIA, Brazil, the whole gem trade and also the people involved in conservation or just trying to make a living near the places where colored gemstones are mined.
"Gemstones from East Africa: A Chance for Conservation?
An interesting question for conservationists.
Conservation in East Africa: A chance for the gem trade?
An interesting question for the gem trade.
May be they should speak with each other and see if they could find a way to build a win-win collaboration?"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
Pemba, Mozambique, December 2009: Dr. Colleen Begg (See the Niassa carnivore project, the Niassa lion project) was giving a presentation about the lion population in Niassa at the Niassa National Reserve annual congress. The focus was about the different threats facing the lion population in the Reserve: A few years ago she identified trophy-hunting as one of the major threats for the lion populations in Niassa, above illegal hunting and retaliatory killings by local communities. This prompted conservationists and hunting operators in the Niassa Reserve to start collaborating on the concept of conservation hunting. Working together, they were able to find a solution that could really help each other in order to protect lion habitats and deal with the numerous threats the lions were facing from poaching, poisoning and epidemics. Several conservation friendly lion trophy-hunting practices were put in place in Niassa and in 2009 Dr Begg was happy to report that in her opinion, as long as these rules were followed, trophy hunting was no longer a serious threat to the survival of lions in Niassa: As a result she downgraded the threat from medium to low in her 2009 annual report. This shows that something unique was happening and conservation hunting was becoming a success in Niassa despite the many difficulties.
"Waterbucks in Niassa, November 2009"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
The case of the Niassa National Reserve is interesting as it is a huge reserve located in the North of Mozambique along the Ruvuma River and the Tanzanian border. It is also a very remote reserve: From Nampula, Lichinga or Pemba, the main cities in Northern Mozambique, it can take several days to access Niassa by land on bad roads when the weather is suitable for travelling. It is a land with dense bush, where the visitor will experience not only the beauty of the African bush but will have also to deal day and night with millions of blood thirsty tse tse flies and malaria infested mosquitoes. For a reserve to be remote and inhospitable can be an advantage but when it comes to financing conservation and protection programs to make the area attractive to tourists, it becomes extremely difficult, especially as the large animal density is much lower than in most Tanzanian and South African National Parks. Nervertheless the protection of Niassa is important as regarding the lion population is estimated between 800 to 1000 animals accounting then for about a third of the whole estimated lion population in Mozambique. That population, one of the largest in Africa nowadays could also potentially grow if the conditions were suitable, thus conservation in Niassa is important for the future of lions as wild animals in Mozambique and Africa.
"Warthogs near M'swize ruby deposit, Niassa, November 2009"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
But conservation has a financial cost and thus the reserve needs income or to be funded. Due to Niassa specificities, like its size, the fact that it is very remote and has some human population, conservation hunting was seen as the most suitable income source for the reserve: Serious hunters would appreciate the privilege of hunting in wild, remote and pristine area. Long term hunting licenses were given, enabling the hunting operators to invest in the reserve building infrastructure like roads and airstrips. Obviously they are hoping that collaborating with scientists and conservationists, not only the lion populations would grow but also the quality of other trophy species in Niassa will increase. Such collaboration if successful would enable them to sell more high quality trophies in the future to their customers. For the people who reside in the reserve, the arrival of several hunting operators created some interesting job opportunities: Several local hunters involved in the past in poaching found jobs as hunting guides or rangers. Finally the income from trophy- hunting is not only helping the reserve to pay its personnel but also to finance several important research and conservation projects, including helping local communities. It looks like typical win-win collaboration where both parties are following on the same objective: make Niassa more beautiful, by protecting the habitats and increasing the wildlife populations.
"Elephant encoutered on the way back from the author visit to the ruby deposit in Niassa"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
But recently Niassa had to face a new and unexpected threat that hunters and conservationists have serious difficulties to deal with: In Oct 2008 rubies were discovered inside the Niassa Reserve on the concession of a hunting operator near the village of M’sawize. Soon several hundreds of gem miners stormed the area located more than 30 kilometers in the bush from the nearest village. Food supply for the miners was an issue and within days, hundreds of people were seen travelling back and forth on the track linking M’sawize to the mining area: First walking, or using bicycles, but rapidly as ruby money was coming to M’sawize, most of the supply was carried using noisy motorbikes. The population at the mines and in M’sawize boomed with miners and dealers coming from across the region including from abroad. Groups of armed poachers were also seen in the area killing animals to provide bush meat to miners. The mining area, without sanitation, rapidly became a noisy slum full of garbage. Of course it wasn’t long before most of the wildlife left the area.
"Ruby mining pit in Niassa, November 2009"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
The Reserve management and the hunting operators were very worried about this new threat to the reserve already endangered by illegal logging and poaching. If the wildlife and particularly the lion populations were to decrease due to such invasions by thousands of illegal gem miners, conservation hunting would not be possible anymore and the reserve would not have enough income to be able to continue to do its best to protect this unique and remote African Wildlife sanctuary.
"A rough Niassa Ruby presented to the author by one of the Niassa Rangers escorting him"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
In July 2009 the Mozambican government took the decision to act in order to close the mining site and expel the illegal miners. Within a few days the mining area was deserted. In fact the gem miners moved on to another new ruby deposit outside the Reserve near Montepuez in the nearby Cabo Delgado province. To avoid the return of illegal mining a joint force of 10 rangers was placed near the mines. At one point this force arrested the author and his party when they tried to visit the mining site in September 2009. Nevertheless two months after, with the support of the Niassa Reserve, the author was able to visit and study the new ruby deposit.
"Under arrest in Niassa: During three days and two nights the author and his traveling companions (Left to right: gemologists Stephane Jacquat (Suisse), Jean Baptiste Senoble (France) and Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada)), had the time to think about conservation and gemology"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
For the hunting operator and the Niassa reserve, the damages were very significant: It was not only that many animals left their hunting concession due to the disturbances created by the gem mining activity, but also the damage was serious regarding the relations they had with the local population living at M’sawize village. For the first time ever the Niassa Rangers were facing open hostility at the village as they were seen as being responsible for the loss of income coming from the departure of the gem miners. The efforts of several years trying to build good relations with the local community had been seriously damaged. Beyond that single ruby rush near M’sawize, conservationists and hunters in Niassa were feeling that if new gem deposits were to be found in within the reserve, illegal gem mining could become a serious threat for Niassa as other illegal activities like poaching and logging.
The issue was taken very seriously by the Reserve management as studying geological maps, it is obvious that the whole Niassa National Reserve has a good potential not only for ruby but also for diamonds, beryl and many other gems. And even though it is illegal to mine in a protected area in Mozambique, the demand for these gemstones is very high and is viewed as easy money by the extremely poor local community.
After his visit to the mining site in November 2009, the author was invited by the Niassa National reserve to give a presentation about the ruby trade in East Africa at the reserve annual congress in Pemba in December 2009. If for many years South East Asia and more particularly Burma was the main source for rubies for the world gem trade, during the past few years things were changing: The ruby production from traditional deposits in South East Asia was declining and a ban is affecting Burmese rubies in the US. The discovery of the Winza ruby deposit in Tanzania in November 2007 surprised the market by the quality of its best gems. Tanzania attracted then a lot of ruby buyers. Local dealers started to search rubies not only in Winza but in all East Africa to supply the foreign buyers. In Northern Mozambique, the ruby rush in Niassa and Montepuez were probably a direct consequence of this interest for Winza rubies. With three new ruby deposits, producing fine stones, the ruby trade starts to look at East Africa as a possible interesting alternative to Burma.
At the end of the author presentation, the attendance was wondering if rubies from East Africa and particularly Niassa would be a blessing or a curse for conservation.
It would be very sad (and possibly disastrous for the long term image of the gem industry) if gemstones like rubies, symbols of nature’s perfection and beauty were to become one of the worse enemies of East African conservation areas, these national parks that are world famous as “gems of the living world”.
On the other hand in Niassa lion hunters and conservationists are working on “conservation hunting” to ensure that wildlife will prosper and be sustainably used in the future.
Would it be possible for the gem trade to work with them on the concept of conservation gems?
The idea sounds very seducing as it would be much better if the hundreds of thousands of people visiting East Africa could be presented with “conservation gems” as safari souvenirs instead of the gem trade being looked at as partially responsible for the destruction of what East Africa is world famous for. It would be far better if gem lovers around the world had the feeling that when buying a ruby from Niassa or Tsavo they were supporting conservation in East Africa, than knowing that they were contributing to the destruction of these protected areas.
For the Niassa National Reserve, the worse case would be that M’sawize like events became the rule. On the other hand they would be interested to work on developing a “conservation gems” project in which the Reserve and its wildlife could benefit from any future gem discovery. One of the particularities of Niassa as a conservation area is that it hosts about 40,000 people inside the reserve. To get the support of the local communities is important for the success of conservation in Niassa. Most of the people living in Niassa are very poor and have no choice except using the reserve resources to live. The reserve is then trying to develop with them sustainable and conservation friendly ways to use these resources. Regarding gem mining, in that aspect, the worse case for the reserve would be to have new cases of illegal mining, but if a mining company was willing to enter into an agreement with the conservation authority to exploit mineral deposits in conjunction with a local community using some conservation friendly techniques, the Niassa Reserve management and the Mozambican governement would probably be interested to study such project.
"Scottish geologist, gem miner and conservationist Campbell Bridges, discovered green garnets in Kenya near the Tsavo National Park. The gem nowadays known as "tsavorite" owns its name to the Tsavo National Park thanks to the efforts of Bridges with the support of companies like Tiffany & Co. Associating gems with conservation areas could be an interesting way to support both gem mining and conservation: Learn more about Tsavorite"
Photo: V. Pardieu / AIGS / Gubelin Gem Lab / ICA, 2005
If the idea sounds nice, turning it into reality will be much more complicated than writing these few lines. The author is well aware of that. But if lion hunters and conservationists could find a way to work together, the gem industry should also be able to find a way to join forces. After all unlike mining for metals like gold, copper, iron, titanium or uranium, ruby mining is rather small scale as the author could see visiting the John Saul Ruby Mine located inside the Tsavo National Park in Kenya: The mine, in operation since the end of the 1970's, is one of the world's largest ruby mine but it is nevertheless limited to about one square kilometer and cannot be seen as putting Tsavo into danger. In fact, if the mining actitity is properly done, meaning using conservation friendly techniques, ruby mining can have a very limited impact on the environment.
In the case of Tsavo, the situation could have been a case study if synergies between the national Park and the ruby mines had been created, but sadly the author is not aware of any such synergies at the moment. It seems that conservation gem mining in East African gem rich conservation areas like Tsavo (in Kenya, producing rubies and tsavorite), Manyara (in Tanzania, producing emeralds and alexandrite) or Niassa (in Mozambique, producing rubies and potentially also many other gems) is still to be invented.
"Tsavorite and rubies, like those presented by Kenyan miner Genson Micheni Musa, are mined from the Tsavo region in Kenya. With "conservation gems", the East African gem trade could take advantage of the millions of tourists visiting East African conservation areas, benefit from a good image and help conservationists to finance the protection of these gems from the living world that are East African National Parks."
Photo: V. Pardieu / Gubelin Gem Lab, 2008
If such project could be successful, gemstones from East Africa could really be a blessing for conservationists as they could help to finance conservation programs and these gems could be a chance for the gem industry to get a beautiful (marketable) product they could associate using the right marketing with some of the most beautiful places on our planet.
The issue is just so simple: Seen from the consumer point of view, a “conservation ruby” sounds obviously so much better than a “blood ruby”. Investing in conservation could give an excellent image for the gem industry in East Africa and for the promotion of East African gems. It could also create value: With more demand, their market value would increase for the benefit of the gem trade and also of conservationists. With the proper know how, branding and some good will on both sides, "East African Conservation Gems" could be a very successful project.
"Gems from Niassa like these rubies could help to finance conservation in Niassa and become symbols for the Reserve..."
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
- "Niassa-Selous-wildlife corridor" an interesting project linking the Niassa National Reserve to the Selous Game reserve with a corridor located between Songea and Tunduru (two of the most famous Tanzanian gem mining areas... see reports on www.fieldgemology.org)
Important Note: Vincent Pardieu is an employee of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Laboratory Bangkok since Dec 2008. Any views expressed on this website - and in particular any views expressed by Vincent Pardieu - are the authors' opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GIA or GIA Laboratory Bangkok. GIA takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content on this website nor is GIA liable for any mistakes or omissions you may encounter. GIA is in particular not screening, editing or monitoring the content on this website and has no possibility to remove, screen or edit any content.