Photo Gallery: Illegal gold mining in Peru

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Artisanal gold miner Alberto Perez takes a rest above one of the huge open-pit mines he’s been working for 35 years. He says he knows the mining is destroying the Amazon. “But what else can we do?” he asks.<br />
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Miners pump silty water up over sluices lined with carpets that trap the gold dust.
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The equipment is crude but cheap and easy to move if word reaches the mine of a planned police raid.
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Muddy water cascades over a carpet-lined sluice. With each drop, the promise of money.
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Miners carry the sodden, silt-caked carpets from the sluices to shake them out in tarp-lined pools where the gold dust will settle.
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Each carpet must be thoroughly shaken and rinsed before it can be reused on the sluices.
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Shaking the heavy carpets is tiring work.
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A miner in his underwear swirls silt mixed with mercury to bind the gold dust together. Little heed is paid to the dangers of direct contact with the heavy metal. In the background, miners haul out a pump to search for a more lucrative site.
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Gold dust brought together by mercury in a process called amalgamation.
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Miners heat the mix to separate the gold from the mercury again. What’s left is ready to sell on the black market.
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Trees around the gold mines die standing.
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The forest, stripped of nutrient matter, dries up and eventually falls down.
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The dead wood is burned to clear space for more mining.
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Alberto Perez’s boss, Joaquin, watches over the mining from above his “hole.”
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Perez goes home once a year to his native Cuzco, high in the Andes, but says he can no longer stand the cold, or the food, or the people.
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The only thing that draws him back are his grand-kids, and his own three children. But he usually only stays a day or two.
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Peru’s anti-illegal-mining Czar, Antonio Fernandez Jeri, leads a police/military patrol along the Madre de Dios River.
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Fernandez’s men reach a mining hole, but the miners have fled and hidden their pumps - possibly under the muddy water.
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Despite the dangerous work, and the police raids, Perez says he’ll mine till he dies. Day and night.
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Soldiers load up a hidden pump engine with military grade explosives. After the boom there’s virtually nothing left.