Tanzania is proposing large-scale logging in the middle of the Selous Game Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most iconic wildlife areas in Africa.
Tender documents have revealed plans for extensive timber harvesting in the middle of the Selous Game Reserve which is also one of the oldest and largest game reserves in the world, covering an area of 54 600 km2. The reserve is an important refuge for Elephants and lions as well as the critically endangered African Wild dog and a host of other species.
The documents state that almost 1 500 square kilometers will be cleared, and almost 3.5million cubic meters of wood extracted, with 2.6 million trees felled, to an expected value $62million. It is not clear who the beneficiaries will be.
Selous has already lost 95% of its elephants in the last 30 years, and it is expected that opening up the park to logging and consequent related development will increase poaching as has been the case in many other parts of Africa.
Speaking at a conservation conference in South Africa over the weekend, Peter Lindsey, director of the World Conservation Network, said that the biggest threat to wild lions in Africa is the destruction of natural habitat. His point was echoed by dozens of conservation organisations including trophy hunters at the Conservation Lab conference.
Paul Stones, a professional hunter, said: “The single most important thing for both trophy hunters and photographic tourists is the protection of biodiversity, which is being lost at catastrophic rates. With the removal of natural habitat at current levels, wildlife in Africa is all but doomed.”
It is understood that no environmental impact study has been finalised prior to the tender, as required by the law, nor was any official notification sent to UNESCO as required by the rules for World Heritage Sites. According to sources within Tanzania, there has been no civil society protest and the state protection and park agencies have remained silent.
Conservationsts are concerned that the Tanzanian Government has sought funding on a hydropower project at Stiegler’s Gorge with construction work of a dam to start in July. The plan is to build a 2 100-megawatt hydro plant on the reserve's Rufiji river, which flows into the Indian Ocean. Budgets for road works and airstrip upgrading are currently being presented to parliament. Yet, UNESCO has a clear position that dam projects that harm World Heritage sites should not be built.
Ian Michler, specialist safari operator and environmental journalist points out that the move to open the reserve up for logging and other development may be as a result of the almost complete failure to attract tourism into the region.
“There are few permanent lodges in the reserve with most of the land given over to trophy hunting concessions,” says Michler. “Revenue from trophy hunting has been virtually non-existent in the Selous.” Michler believes the Tanzanian government ought to hand the entire area over to photographic tourism. “It’s the only way the Selous will be saved,” he said.
Already, two large conservation investments have been injected into the park – by KFW, the German government-owned development bank as well as the World Bank – as part of a tourism development project.  
A meeting was held by World Wildlife Fund at the World Bank in Washington on Monday to urgently discuss the Tanzanian government decision. The WWF have already expressed deep reservations about the hydro-electric project asking potential investors, banks and construction companies not to invest in or lend to the project.
Forest clearance tenders are due in on Wednesday and will be opened this Friday.
The Independent on Saturday