A power struggle has recently been initiated between the Tanzanian government and WWF. The international NGO is preparing a report regarding the Selous Reserve in Tanzania. The Selous region is the largest protected area of the country and has the largest concentration of African elephants on the continent. However, the term “largest” is probably exaggerated as is shown in the reports.
The WWF report
According to the report, the Selous region saw its elephant population reduced by 90 percent within a 40 year period due to poaching for ivory. In 1976, nearly 110 000 elephants roamed the savannahs, wetlands and forests of the Selous. But nowadays, only 13 000 elephants have been spotted in the ecosystem according to a count conducted by the research institute TAWIRI (2013).
The report also highlight that the site is threatened by oil and gas exploration and mining extraction. This threat not only has ecological consequences, it also impact financial development opportunities of local communities who could resort to elephant poaching in order to survive.
75% of the Selous land is covered by oil and gas concessions and 54 mining concessions were identified. In addition, project exist to construct a uranium extraction mine without having studied its environmental impact on water, flora and wildlife. Unfortunately, the roads built to allow the passage of construction machinery for these projects have greatly facilitated the movement of poachers in the reserve.
A dam project to regulate the waters of the river Rifiji river also threaten the local population living near the river.
The study also demonstrate how the elephant’s disappearance of the Selous region negatively impact the Tanzania’s nature based economy. The reserve currently generates $ 6 million in annual revenues, distributed amongst the reserve, the state and local communities, sustaining the life of more than 1.2 million people.
According to Chris Gee of the WWF:
“This industrial level poaching is not only devastating elephant populations but threatens livelihoods of local communities and risks destroying this World Heritage Site,”
Five proposals were made in the report to help the Tanzanian government implement quick solutions that would curb this phenomenon and protect the wildlife populations.
- Creating a socio-economic study taking into account social needs by assessing the impact of the proposed activities, useful for future decisions.
- Making long-term valuable investment decisions (sustainable tourism) rather than exclusively promote short-term vision (mining, oil and gas).
- Setting up a representative governance of all beneficiaries which should take the into account the needs and opinions of people living near the reserve.
- Creating a transparent and evidence-based policy, seeking the full support of all state services, as well as groups of the civil society and technical experts.
- Implementing and monitoring of existing regulations.
The Government position
The Tanzanian state rebutted the claims contained in the report, especially the part announcing the disappearance of elephants by 2022.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has instead criticized the WWF for failing to take into consideration efforts taken to curb poaching in the country. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Major General Gaudence Milanzi, emphasized the exaggeration of the WWF report. According to him, the government has made deliberate efforts to curb poaching, including the recent establishment of a wildlife crime unit and training of rangers as paramilitary unit.
“We are not refuting the fact that there is poaching in the Selous game reserve and elsewhere but not to the extent being alleged by WWF reports, because the government and international organizations are taking action to fight poaching. I believe these efforts are bearing fruits. We will shortly see a significant increase in the number of elephants in the Selous region as well as in other reserves.”
The Judiciary is also working with the government to speed up hearing of poaching cases in courts, some of which have been completed and ruling given. Two poachers, both Chinese citizens, were sentenced to 30 years in jail and to pay heavy fines.
What should be remember from this opposition?
Having been several times to the Selous during different periods, I can assure that the vast reserve in Africa is not what it has been. The authorities immediately reacted negatively to the NGO’s report but the reality is evident and only the Tanzanian government do not admit it. It is easy to understand why the government is to blame for these catastrophic results when one knows all the sums that have been poured into Tanzania to address the poaching problem.
But the main problem does not lie in the actions taken, but rather the budgets that were allocated but not used for actions. The Tanzanian government is certainly not a model of honesty and corruption rage all strata of the state.
All the elements in the WWF report are factual. The figures are based on surveys that were carried out by official institutes. The surge of oil and gas projects, mining activities, the uranium mining project and the expected dam are a reality. The UNESCO is rightfully calling for emergency meetings to decide on the status of the Selous.
The Tanzanian government is upset and do not understand the WWF persecution. But how do they justify the decline of elephants from 110 000 to 13 000 is less than 40 years despite all the measures that have been taken?