Tanzania’s largest game reserve is under threat.
Elephants in Selous Game Reserve could be wiped out within six years following heightened poaching, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned.
The oldest in Africa, the reserve once boasted 110,000 elephants in the 1970s. Today, it has around 15,000 remaining, and they are threatened by "industrial-scale poaching".
Increased poaching is driven by demand for ivory from Asian nations and in particular China. If urgent measures are not taken, the Selous "could see its elephant population decimated by 2022,” the WWF said in a report.
The report, ‘Saving Selous’ commissioned by WWF and carried out by global development advisers Dalberg, noted that over the last 40 years, the reserve lost 90 percent of its elephants, and if the worrying trend continued, Selous could vanish by early 2022.
"The elephant population in Selous is now near a historic low, and urgent measures are required to protect the remaining animals and return the population to a stable and sustainable size," the report said.
Killing the tourism industry
According to research, more than 30,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year. A Recent census shows that in Tanzania, the worst-affected country, the population fell by 60 percent in the five years to 2014.
The Selous reserve contributes approximately $6 million a year to Tanzania’s economy, which could be a major setback to the east African nation if it falls.
The reserve is named after a British explorer, hunter and conservationist Frederick Selous. It is famed for its virgin ecosystems, a large population of black rhinos, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, cheetahs, as well as elephants.
The sprawling reserve which lies in southern Tanzania is 55,000 sq km (21,000 sq miles) large and was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.
Following amplified poaching, the reserve was put on a watch list in 2014 when on average, 6 elephants were killed every day by poaching syndicates throughout the Selous ecosystem.
Industrialization is also to blame for the destruction of the natural resources within the reserve.
In 2012 for example, to enable the construction of a large-scale uranium mine in the southern area of the reserve, a boundary of the Selous World Heritage site was modified. Such extractions cause environmental degradation, including the destruction of wildlife habitats in the immediate area around exploration sites.
Selous' value, "is dependent on its large wildlife populations and pristine ecosystems," WWF Tanzania country director Amani Ngusaru said.
"Achieving zero elephant poaching is the first step to setting Selous on a path toward fulfilling its sustainable development potential," Ngusaru told AFP News Agency.
The Tanzanian government has vowed to tackle the corruption that allows the illegal ivory trade to continue.
Action need to be taken both in Tanzania and in Asia, Fred Kumah, of the WWF, advised.
"The demand from the Asian countries, China being a key one, Thailand and others, are a key, and we are working with the Chinese government alongside the other Asian countries that are involved in the illicit trade and transit of the illicit trade," he told the BBC.
"We have control of our countries, and our governments, our businesses need to stand up for the elephants and for the natural spaces in which they are living in."