A White Rhino and her calf walk in the dusk light in Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa's North West Province April 19, 2012. Elephant and rhino poaching is surging, conservationists say, an illegal piece of Asia's scramble for African resources, driven by the growing purchasing power of the region's newly affluent classes. In South Africa, nearly two rhinos a day are being killed to meet demand for the animal's horn, which is worth more than its weight in gold. Picture taken April 19, 2012. To match Feature AFRICA-POACHING/ REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)

Durban - A proposed coal mine bordering on KwaZulu-Natal’s world-famous Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park, is said to be a danger to the area’s rhino population.

Alarmed environmentalists, with the clock ticking to lodge objections, sought public support to stop the project by launching an online petition.

More than 500 people signed and respected international wildlife bodies have thrown their support behind the protests.

Ibutho Coal, a company registered in Joburg, has put in an application to develop an anthracite coal mine in the iMfolozi wilderness area. The Fuleni Anthracite Coal Mine Project is set to be given the green light on June 6.

However, environmentalists fear that the mine would not only irreparably damage the area’s ecosystem, but may make it easier for rhino poachers to get into the game reserve, home to the Big Five.

The mining company submitted its application to the Mineral Resources department last year for the creation of the mine bordered by the Umfolozi River to the north, the Richards Bay railway line to the south and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve to the north-west. The mine covers more than 14 000ha, and cuts across 20km of rural Zululand countryside. The existing Somkele Anthracite Mine is to the north-east of Fuleni.

Anthracite, according to the information document, is a carbon-rich, high quality coal that is used, among other things, as a smokeless fuel for domestic heating, as pulverised fuel for power generation in older type coal burning utilities, especially in Europe, and for the manufacture of carbon-rich products, such as Soderberg electrodes and blocks. The washed coal will be transported by road to either the Swaziland-Richards Bay railway line or directly to the Richards Bay coal terminal for export to mainly eastern countries.

There will be opencast and underground mining, and Fuleni’s estimated life span is 32 years, after which Ibutho expects to rehabilitate the area.

This has alarmed conservationists, who made an 11th hour dash to garner mass objections against the project, all of which had to be submitted yesterday to public participation onsultants.

Sheila Berry, deputy chairwoman of Wilderness Action Group, leading the campaign to stop the mine, said it would harm the area.

“In some instances, the coal mine is only 40m to 70m from the park boundary fence, which is what we would call a buffer zone. This cannot be allowed to happen,” said Berry.

They wanted the process stopped even before it reached the environmental impact assessment stage, she said.

The comments period ended yesterday and by June 6, interested and affected parties would know whether the project would proceed into the next stage, which is the environmental impact assessment.

The organisation launched an online petition called “Say NO to Ibutho Coal and its Fuleni Anthracite Project!” on Avaaz.org, and a Facebook site called “Save our Wilderness” late on Thursday night.