Tanzanian game reserve could lose World Heritage Status

Posted on 5 July 2019

Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage site in Tanzania, may lose this status if it continues with plans to build a hydropower dam within the reserve.

The IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is an international organisation which promotes conservation. The IUCN Red List is an authority on the status of the world’s threatened species.

They predict irreversible damage will be done if the game reserve’s plan to build Stiegler’s Gorge dam goes ahead. In order to build the dam, an area of 1,000 sq.km will have to be cleared of forest and major infrastructure will have to be built in the heart of the reserve.

An area of over 900 sq.km would have to be flooded. This will impact not only wildlife, but the livelihoods of people who rely on the Rufiji river for agriculture and fisheries.


IUCN has joined the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in a call to stop the logging and other activities related to the project that are already underway immediately. In addition to the disastrous impact on the reserve’s natural environment, a site with a large dam and reservoirs within its boundaries cannot be listed as a World Heritage Site.

‘Recent satellite images confirm that logging has started in the location of the future reservoir, despite the Committee’s repeated calls for Tanzania to halt these plans,’ said the IUCN.

‘The Stiegler’s Gorge dam project is unacceptable – it would cut the heart out of the Selous reserve, with catastrophic impacts on the site’s wildlife and habitats,’ says Peter Shadie, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. ‘The commitment to protect World Heritage sites for future generations is a collective one, which neither Tanzania nor any other country can choose to ignore.’


Last year a delegation from the World Heritage Committee and IUCN visited the game reserve to review the state of conservation in the reserve. Their recommendations will be tabled and discussed this year.

The 50,000 sq.km reserve joined this iconic list in 1982. Selous has long been regarded as one of the continent’s largest protected areas and is a sanctuary for elephant, wild hunting dog, black rhino, cheetah, giraffe and crocodile.

It has a diversity of habitats, from woodlands to swamps, and is home to the world’s largest known population of hipposand buffalo.




Until now, it has been viewed as being relatively undisturbed by humans. There are no permanent settlements in the reserve and photographic tourism is restricted to a small area.

In 2014, Selous was placed on the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’ because poaching caused its elephant numbers to plummet.

Last year, extensive deforestation was added as another reason why this wilderness is in danger.


Feature image: Rainer Voegeli.

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