First published in Die Burger
It is one of the greatest wilderness areas in the world, and the biggest single game sanctuary in Africa. But now its ecological integrity is to be irrevocably changed, and its very existence is under threat.
The sanctuary is Tanzania’s vast Selous Game Reserve, a 54,600km² wilderness that President John “The Bulldozer” Magufuli has just announced is to be split into two, with one section declared as the Nyerere National Park, and the rest reserved as a hunting bloc.
Now under imminent threat of being deproclaimed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the Selous in the mid-1970s was Africa’s greatest sanctuary for elephants, with more than 110,000 within its borders. Then came the ivory wars of the late-1970s and early 1980s, and again, the wave of poaching of the past decade. More than 90% of the elephants were slaughtered, and today just over 15,000 elephants remain in the greater Selous-Mikumi-Niassa ecosystem.
The ecological integrity of the Selous is already under threat after the government gave the go-ahead for an open-cast uranium mine in the south and granted scores of oil and natural gas exploration concessions in the reserve.
In June 2017, Magufuli’s government gave the go-ahead for the damming of the iconic Stiegler’s Gorge on the Rufiji River, effectively tearing the northern heart out of the reserve. This was immediately followed by the handing out of logging permits to 17 companies to remove 1,500km² of forest – estimated at 2.6 million trees – to make way for the dam.
This was justified as removing the trees which would, in any case, die because of inundation, but effectively meant the bulldozing of roads and creation of infrastructure to enable logging. In March, the luxury Azura Selous Lodge suddenly shut its doors when loggers moved in unannounced.
The knock-on effects of the dam are well-documented – the Rufiji Delta is home to East Africa’s biggest intact mangrove forests. Its seasonal flooding not only fertilises the key farming areas on the flood plains and maintains a delicate balance between fresh and saline water, its algal blooms also feed ocean plankton, crucial to fish and prawn stocks, and to the annual migration of whale sharks.
Now Magufuli has announced his government will deproclaim the Selous and divide it into the Nyerere National Park and a hunting zone. One of the world’s greatest conservation areas is being dismantled.
Magufuli disingenuously states that “only 3%” of the Selous is being alienated. Well, that 3% is the heart of the Selous, now being opened up to roads, a massive dam, power station, pylons, residential infrastructure, airfields – and to mineral, timber and wildlife exploitation.
The new national park is being named after modern Tanzania’s founding father, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. In 1961, Nyerere stated that, “The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa… we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grandchildren will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance… the success or failure of which not only affects the continent of Africa but the rest of the world as well.”
He must be turning in his grave. DM