Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve Tragedy

Tanzania’s largest nature reserve cannibalized for blood ivory and uranium

The Selous Game Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Africa’s oldest and one of its largest nature reserves, and once home to the largest elephant populations on earth.

Selous signNow, results of a new elephant census in the Selous show why we should be worried about the Serengeti.

Covering over 21,000 square miles, the Selous (pronounced sa-loo’, after an early explorer) is one of the largest protected wildlife reserves in the world and one of Africa’s last great wilderness areas.

In the introduction to the authoritative book, The Wild Heart of Africa, published in 2009, its authors describe the Selous as:

“the biggest wildlife concentrations on the continent, including 70,000 elephants, over 120,000 buffaloes, more than half a million antelopes and a couple of thousand large carnivores all roaming free in its forests, riverine thickets, steppes and mountain ranges. Its origins date back to the German colonial times of 1896 making it Africa’s oldest protected area.”

Massive Elephant Slaughter

This October a group of organizations conducted a new census of  the Selous’ elephant population. The sophisticated study was carried out by Tanzanian wildlife authorities with support from the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

tusks in China

We’ve received the following information:

Between 2005 and 2013, during the reign of the current government, the Selous lost more than 80% of its elephants to poaching. In 2008, it had an estimated 65,000 to 70,000 elephants. The recent census shows 13,084 !

Why? Money.  Figures we have obtained tell the story:

During this time –  Poachers could make $300 a tusk, grossing more than $34 million. Middlemen sold to sellers in the city for about $1000 a tusk, total profit $23 million. Sellers passed onto exporters for $1400 a tusk, total profit $23 million. In China one pound of ivory sells for about $1000, making the gross value of Selous’ elephants worth billions. This big money has attracted organized crime, corrupt officials, and terrorist groups like Al-Shabab.

Uranium Mining

On top of this, the government of Tanzania is pushing ahead with uranium mining in a section of the Selous. As Serengeti Watch reported earlier,

“While authorities say the plan will affect less than 1% of the reserve, dozens of environmental groups around the world are outraged. They say the mine will produce 60 million tons of radioactive and poisonous waste during its 10-year lifespan, and up 139 million tons if a projected extension of the mine is implemented. According to Uranium Network, “the radioactive wastes pose a serious threat to Selous Game Reserve which is home to the world’s largest elephant population and other wildlife. No proven methods exist to keep the radioactive and toxic slush and liquids from seeping into surface waters, aquifers or spreading with the dry season wind into the Reserve.”  (See the link below in our Friends of Serengeti blog.)

The fate of the Selous should be proof enough that the lure of money and short term gain may well bring news of similar catastrophes. With gold mines nearby and the recent announcement of vast stores of phosphates under its plains, this includes the Serengeti.


Read more on the Selous

More on Uranium Mining

More about elephant poaching in Africa