South Bohemia faces growing wave of illegal moldavite miners

Photo: Onohej zlatove, CC BY-SA 4.0

Police in South Bohemia are increasingly struggling with illegal miners of moldavites, bottle-green gemstones found almost exclusively on the territory of the Czech Republic. The rich deposits of the gem found in the area attract hordes of illegal hunters, who are devastating the local landscape by digging deep holes in the ground.

The beautiful, greenish-brown gemstone, called Vltavín in Czech, is thought to have formed from condensed rock vapours after a meteorite impact more than twenty million years ago. Rich deposits of moldavites are today scattered over south Bohemia, where you can come across the gem in its crude form.

Although there are several moldavite mines operating in the country, the rich deposits of the gem have been attracting groups of illegal hunters, who can make considerable sums of money by selling the stones on the black market.

The small south Bohemian town of Jankov has been struggling with the illegal miners for decades, but in recent years, the situation has considerably worsened, says mayor Jan Jílek. The reason is an increasing market price of moldavite, which currently can sell for up to 300 crowns per gram.

"There is a large demand for the semi-precious stones both on the western and eastern markets. There are organised gangs are rotating between several sites. Sometimes the diggers spend a few week in Jankov before disappearing again, leaving behind destroyed plots of land."

As they dig one deep hole after another, the moldavite hunters leave behind a devastated landscape. The holes, which can be up to four metres deep, turn into muddy pools as they are filled with rain water. They also dig in the forests, threatening to uproot the trees.

Although the digs are illegal, the miners have little fear of serious reprisals. Unless they are caught red-handed with the gem, the digging alone is treated as a misdemeanour.

According to Mr Jílek, it is not in the power of the local authorities to deal with the problem on their own. One solution is to have the police constantly monitor the sites, but there is also another option – to open a mine in the village and extract the deposits legally:

"The other option is to examine the location to see whether or not it would be suitable for extraction. We have already received an approval from the Ministry of Environment to carry out a survey of the location."

Photo: Petr Kubát / Czech Radio

In an effort to fight the moldavite hunters, police officers in South Bohemia have recently come up with some new tactics, says police spokesman Jiří Matzner:

"These professional groups usually operate at night, and the miners place patrols on the access roads. We started to employ police dogs, which can sniff out the diggers from a distance of up to several hundred metres. The police officers then try to get as close to them as possible, with their radio transmitters, telephones and torches switched off."

According to authorities, illegal moldavite hunters are becoming increasingly aggressive. The police have therefore advised locals never to confront them on their own.