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

LONDON: The world-famous Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania must be stripped of its status as a World Heritage Site due to the irreversible damage done by construction of a controversial dam.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is leading the call for delisting ahead of the World Heritage Committee’s meeting, which opens on Friday (16 July).

The Rufiji 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.

The new EIA briefing World Heritage Dammed lays bare the damage already done to the Selous by work on the dam and makes the case for delisting it as an essential step in preserving the integrity of World Heritage sites around the globe.

Shruti Suresh, EIA Deputy Wildlife Campaign Leader, said: “It may appear incongruous that a campaigning environmental group such as EIA is urging that the protection 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 are effectively gone, thanks to the Rufiji hydropower project, which contravenes international legal frameworks and will only continue to rip apart one of Africa’s largest remaining wilderness areas.

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

“It’s appalling that this has happened on the Tanzania Government’s watch and at its direct instigation – the World Heritage Committee needs to send a clear and unambiguous message to the world that the willful destruction of such a special environment is totally unacceptable.”

EIA has campaigned against the Rufiji hydropower project and has 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.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have recommended that the World Heritage Committee remove its status when it meets.

But while EIA welcomes the recommendation to the Committee, it is concerned that the final decision may well be made on political rather than environmental grounds – two of the Committee members, China (also the Chair) and Egypt, have a conflict of interest, given that both countries have considerable commercial 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, subsequently, deforestation linked to the dam’s construction.

Now, heavy equipment, explosives and cement are rapidly destroying the unique ecosystems that once justified the Selous’ inclusion on the list of World Heritage in 1982.

The project has unfortunately reached a point of no-return, having already caused irreversible damage, especially with the diversion of the Rufiji river from its natural riverbed and the main dam wall construction, which is expected to be completed by November 2021, at which time the filling of the reservoir will start.

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 its 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 not to finance projects that could harm UNESCO World Heritage.”



  • Shruti Suresh, EIA Senior Wildlife Campaigner, via shrutisuresh[at]
  • Paul Newman, EIA Senior Press & Communications Officer, via press[at]



  1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.
  2. Read and download World Heritage Dammed at


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