Elephants in the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve must be stripped of its prestigious World Heritage status

EIA today calls for the world-famous Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania to be stripped of its status as a World Heritage Site due to the irreversible damage caused by construction of a controversial dam.

We have campaigned long and hard against the Rufiji hydropower project and have called on governments around the world to support the delisting of the Selous, as well as urging all companies involved to divest from the project.

Now the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has recommended to the World Heritage Committee that it removes the status when it meets next month to send a clear signal to the custodians of all other World Heritage sites that reckless environmental vandalism on the scale of that inflicted in the Selous is absolutely not permissible.

Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania (c) Kevin Harber

Shruti Suresh, EIA Senior Wildlife Campaigner, said: “It may appear bizarre that a campaigning environmental group such as EIA is urging that the protections of World Heritage status be removed from such a unique area, but it’s vital that a line in the sand is drawn on this issue. The reasons for designating the site as World Heritage no longer exist – thanks to the Rufiji hydropower project, which has irreparably destroyed the Selous.

“The Rufiji project is categorically unfit for purpose, contravenes international legal frameworks and will only rip apart one of Africa’s largest remaining wilderness areas.

“Multiple requests for the project to be halted have been made but have been ignored by the Tanzanian Government, which instead responded by accelerating the construction of the dam, introducing security patrols at the site and threatening any opposition with jail time.

“This hasn’t just happened on the Tanzania Government’s watch, it’s happened at its direct instigation – the World Heritage Committee needs to send a clear and unambiguous message to the world that the wilful destruction of such a special environment is totally unacceptable.

“It’s essential to protect the integrity of the World Heritage Convention and, by extension, all those other irreplaceable and unique sites it protects.”

Dam construction under way in Selous

While EIA welcomes the recommendation to the Committee next month, our campaigners are still concerned that the final decision may well be made on political and not environmental grounds as it is currently chaired by China; Egypt is also a Committee member and both countries have considerable financial interests in the dam.

Since 2014, the Selous has occupied the precarious position of ‘World Heritage in Danger’ due to intense poaching at the time and now deforestation linked to the dam’s construction.

The hydropower project is set to flood an area of 125,000 ha and construction has already resulted in a sprawling industrial complex in the heart of the wilderness, with roads to and from the area opening and connecting poachers to a rich, and now exceptionally vulnerable, ecosystem.

Heavy equipment, explosives and cement are rapidly chipping away at the lush and critical ecosystems that once justified the Selous’ inclusion on the list of World Heritage in 1982.

African wild dogs, aka painted dogs, resting in the shade - a third of their global population is in the Selous

African wild dogs in Selous

As part of its justification for recommending delisting, UNESCO notes that the Selous’  ‘’elephant populations have unexpectedly not started recovering, strongly indicating that poaching has likely remained a problem. The population of black rhino, estimated at more than 2,000 at the time of inscription, is likely to be extinct or no longer viable. If there are remaining individuals, they have likely survived in the dense woodlands, including those which will be flooded by the dam.’’

As part of our ongoing campaign, EIA has engaged with investors holding shares in the Rufiji project’s lead construction company and major banks financing the project.

Suresh added: “UNESCO’s recent recommendation will come as a serious warning to the financial sector that decisions to remain invested in unsustainable ventures can fuel the loss of wildlife, ecosystems and shared heritage.

“We will continue to lobby investors in light of this recent news, especially those that have already made explicit commitments in their sustainability policies to not finance projects that could harm UNESCO World Heritage.”