Tanzania will be going ahead with a $3 billion logging project in the middle of the Selous Game Reserve – a Unesco World Heritage Site, and one of the most iconic wildlife areas in Africa.

Seventeen local companies have been awarded tenders to clear 1 500 square-kilometres of terrain – an estimated 2.6 million trees, to an expected value of $62 million. The purpose is to make way for the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project, which will see the construction of the largest dam in Tanzania along the Rufiji River.

The Reserve is one of the oldest and largest in the world, covering an area of 54 600 square-kilometres, and is an important refuge for elephants, lions, Black rhinos and giraffes, along with the critically endangered African Wild Dog and other species. Last year, statistics showed that the Reserve had lost 95% of its elephants over the past 30 years, and the opening of the park to logging with the related development, would see the destruction of the animals’ natural habitat and an increase in poaching – as has been the case in other parts of Africa.

Rainforest Rescue said, in addition, “the impact of the dam would be felt downstream along the Rufiji River and delta and in one of the world’s largest mangrove forests. It would endanger the livelihoods of 200 000 people, particularly small farmers and fishermen.”

In December 2018, a report released by CNBC stated that Tanzanian President John Magufuli had rejected the environmental concerns, saying Tanzania had allocated 32.5% of its land mass to conservation.

Unesco responded to the tender go-ahead, reiterating its concern over the dam construction. “Upon the inscription of Selous Game Reserve on the World Heritage List in 1982, the international community recognised the Outstanding Universal Value of this property as one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Africa, with relatively undisturbed ecological and biological processes and exceptional biodiversity. In a series of decisions adopted over the last decade, the Committee expressed its concern about the potential damage to the site’s values resulting from the hydropower dam at Stiegler's Gorge, located on the Rufiji River within the Selous Game Reserve World Heritage property,” read a statement by Unesco on December 12.