Rampant poaching threatens former elephant stronghold in Tanzania

Update | July 4, 2017

A WWF report published today warns about the economic and environmental risks of the proposed large-scale hydropower dam planned for Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. The research says that the dam would have direct impacts on the UNESCO site’s core environmental value and tourism. It reveals that the knock-on effects of the dam in Steigler’s Gorge, in the heart of the Selous Game Reserve, also risk damaging a wetland of international importance. .

lion in tree in Selous

Rampant ivory poaching has reduced the elephant population in Tanzania’s oldest and largest protected area by 90 percent in fewer than 40 years.

Nearly 110,000 elephants used to roam the savannas, wetlands, and forests of Selous Game Reserve—a World Heritage Site—in the mid-1970s. Now only 15,000 remain as criminals continue to kill the animals for their ivory tusks.

WWF is sounding the alarm for urgent action in combating wildlife crime in the reserve.

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

It’s not just elephants at risk. The continued decline of the species would deal a hefty blow to the livelihoods local communities who depend on income generated by tourism in Selous. The reserve brings in $6 million annually.

In 2014, UNESCO—a branch of the United Nations that encourages the protection of cultural and natural heritage sites around the world—placed Selous on its List of World Heritage in Danger, meaning the very characteristics that garnered the reserve international acclaim are now under imminent threat. Criminal syndicates killed an average of six elephants per day in the protected area during a recent peak of the poaching crisis.

“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.”

The reserve also faces threats from mining, oil and gas exploration, and dam construction. In addition to an end to wildlife crime, WWF is calling for an assessment of the impacts of these proposed industrial activities, and investment in environmentally friendly tourism that will benefit nearby communities.