LIMA, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Private gold prospecting is catching on in Latin America with the wider availability of sophisticated new tools that make conventional panning almost obsolete.
Gold finds made with ordinary metal detectors make headlines only when in large quantities, industry sources say. New gadgetry makes prospecting easier and potentially more profitable.
Latin America's regulation of private panning for gold remains lax and the law is vague about results and rewards of gold finds.
Most Latin American countries are clamping down on private panning, which officials want to make absolutely illegal.
Peru, the largest regional producer of gold, has found private or illegal panning for gold is difficult to monitor or control.
U.S. company Minelab indicated its new gold detectors could be headed for Latin American markets as prized tools.
Gold deposits across Central and South America have drawn modern urban prospectors and fired their zeal for quick rewards.
Minelab recently set up a gold mining division to support "artisanal small-scale gold miners and prospectors around the world."
Minelab's hand-held gold detector, said to be the first gadget of its kind when it was launched in 1985, was designed by physicist Bruce Candy.
In January an Australian miner found a gold nugget weighing more than 11 pounds using Minelab's GPX-5000 gold detector, said to be worth at least $300,000. It was the cheapest publicity that Minelab could wish for its equipment.
The Courier newspaper in Ballarat, Victoria, identified the metal detector used in the find but not the miner, who wished to remain anonymous. Australians were told to gear up for a gold rush after the rare discovery.
Minelab says its equipment is gaining popularity in Latin America.
"Prospectors across Central and Latin America have also tasted success with the GPX 5000 gold detector," the company said. Recently a prospector in Venezuela discovered about an ounce of gold and in Brazil a smaller nugget was found using Minelab's technology.
Minelab launched its first hand-held gold detector in Australia in 1985. It wants to focus on the small-scale gold mining market and its communities.
Minelab General Manager Peter Charlesworth said the company would promote gold detection in the toughest of mineralized soil conditions "with minimal disruption to the environment."
Commercial gold mining has caused social unrest in Latin America because of perceived damage to environment.
With the new tools, Charlesworth said, "safe, effective and profitable gold mining is only a step away for any serious prospector."
Minelab is an Australian company with headquarters in Torrensville, South Australia.
Other than new gold detection gadgetry, scientists have found that observing termites can lead prospectors to gold.
Termites excrete trace deposits of gold after burrowing beneath eroded subterranean material that is usually inaccessible to humans, an Australian study said.