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World Heritage Site in Tanzania Risks Losing Elephants, UNESCO Status if Rampant Poaching isn’t Addressed

Ivory poaching syndicates have reduced the elephant population in Tanzania’s largest protected area by 90 percent in fewer than 40 years, a threat that has also put at risk local livelihoods and the World Heritage Site status of one of Africa’s oldest wildlife reserves.

Selous Game Reserve, named a World Heritage Site in 1982, was home to one of the greatest concentrations of African elephants on the continent. Nearly 110,000 elephants once roamed the savannas, wetlands and forests of Selous, but now only about 15,000 remain in the ecosystem, according to a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report.

Saving Selous: African Icon Under Threat, produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, shows how the complete loss of Selous’ elephants would damage Tanzania’s nature-based economy, putting the livelihoods of local communities in the area at risk. Travel and tourism in Selous generate US$6 million annually, and the industry represents a combined yearly contribution of US$5 billion to the GDP of Tanzania, home to world-renowned assets such as Mount Kilimanjaro and Serengeti National Park.

“Selous is the one of the largest wilderness areas left in Africa. Its value to Tanzania – and indeed to the rest of the world – is dependent on its large wildlife populations and pristine ecosystems,” said WWF-Tanzania Country Director Amani Ngusaru.

In 2014, UNESCO placed Selous on its List of World Heritage in Danger due to the severity of elephant poaching. At the recent peak of the crisis, an average of six Selous elephants were being gunned down by criminal syndicates each day. Tanzania is preparing an emergency action plan to address the poaching threat.

“Selous has been ground zero for elephant poaching for far too long,” said Bas Huijbregts, Manager, African Species Conservation, WWF-US. “It is imperative that Selous rangers and village game scouts in the surrounding wildlife management areas are properly trained and equipped; the judiciary system is strengthened leading to arrests and prosecution of wildlife criminals, and incentives are created for communities to protect their wildlife.”

UNESCO also has expressed concerns about other potentially harmful industrial activities threatening the reserve, such as mining, oil and gas exploration, and dam construction. Selous’ status will be on the global agenda again at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee next month.

In order for Selous to be removed from UNESCO’s In Danger list, WWF is calling for greater efforts in combatting wildlife crime, an assessment of the impacts of proposed industrial activities, investment in sustainable tourism infrastructure, and an equitable distribution of benefits to nearby communities.

“Achieving zero elephant poaching is the first step to setting Selous on a path toward fulfilling its sustainable development potential. Together, we must ensure that this natural treasure is protected from harm,” Ngusaru said.