Oil rigs, uranium mines, dams, railroads and other developments bring humans deep into the bush. The problem is not that the people are taking over the land; it is that they kill the antelope for meat and the elephants for their tusks.
When developers make roads in the bush, they start by finding an ancient elephant trail since it will already be fairly straight and open. Then, they dig out the boulders and tree roots that are in the way. New roads are bumpy. Established roads are smooth and easier to drive on. Such roads give poachers quick access to the deep bush, and thus to the animals that live there.
This is an aerial photo of the uranium mine and the road leading to it (bottom right). The other sandy areas are dry river beds.
These game scouts are in an unused safari hunting camp, cleaning their rifles. They have just returned from catching a band of poachers near the uranium mine.
Many years ago, oil company workers abandoned this vehicle alongside a road in the northern part of the Selous Game Reserve.
From 1981 to 1985 Tanzania gave Shell Oil permission to cut big roads through three-quarters of the Selous in its search for oil and minerals. In 2005 and 2006 Tanzania awarded Dominion Oil & Gas and Heritage Oil prospecting blocks covering most of the Selous, although they do not yet have permission to start. Tanzania has also awarded prospecting licenses for precious stones inside the Selous (“Selous”).
If such companies are allowed to go forward, they will create more big roads and bring in more people, which will increase poaching.
Of course, hunters use roads, too. The difference is that hunters carve out just a few, tiny roads deep inside the bush, roads that take them around a creek or into a valley. Mining companies build major roads that bring people directly from the big cities to the elephant areas.
The Uranium Mine
In 2012 the Tanzanian government excised about 160 square miles (41,000 hectares) or .8% of the southwest corner of the Selous Game Reserve (“Selous”). At the same time, the Tanzanian Ministry of Energy and Minerals granted a uranium mining license for the area to Mantra, which is controlled by Uranium One, which is controlled by AtomRedMetZoloto, which is controlled by Rosatom, which is a group of wealthy Russian oligarchs.
The concern is that the land is exactly where one of the biggest populations of free-ranging elephants in the world migrated to find refuge from poachers, and that the mine's new roads and employees have caused, and will continue to cause, increased poaching in the area.
As part of the business deal, the company managers signed a memorandum meant to outline the company’s role in combating elephant poaching, which included investing $800,000 in supporting one anti-poaching team in the Selous for one year (“Tanzania Mantra”). Although that year has long passed, the roads and the increased number of workers continue to cause more poaching.
Another project is the hydro-electric dam at Stiegler’s Gorge on the Rufigi River, which runs through the Selous Game Reserve. This project has been criticized both for “major potential impacts on the downstream ecology” and because some project managers have been charged with stealing money from the project (“Selous”). Less talked about is the effect the project has had on elephant poaching. Since the work started, many of the apprehended poachers have been men who were brought in to work on the dam.
Upping the Ante
The Tanzanian government could require the companies working in elephant areas to do more. For instance, it could require them to donate cash to support game scouts on a regular basis. The companies could also let the Tanzanian government use their aircraft, pilots and fuel to count elephants, locate poachers and relocate game scouts. More importantly, the government could require these companies to hire more Tanzanians and fewer foreigners, and provide education and health care for the employees and their families, which would alleviate poverty and keep poaching from being so alluring. Another random idea would be to charge the companies a hefty fine for each of their employees caught poaching.