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Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is legendary, but its biggest game reserve – the Selous – is even more impressive, for its size and stunning amount of wildlife. Located in a remote sector of southern Tanzania and relatively untouched by human impact, Selous is the largest game reserve in Africa and one of the largest protected wildlife areas in the world, covering nearly 20,000 square miles. Some of Africa’s greatest concentrations of elephants, black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles are at home in its varied habitats, ranging from open grasslands and wetlands to dense woodlands and rocky hills.

Selous was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, recognizing its significance as one of Africa’s last great wilderness areas. It encompasses relatively undisturbed ecological and biological processes, including a diverse range of wildlife with significant predator/prey relationships.

So while it seems inconceivable that Tanzania would approve uranium mining within the reserve, the country’s natural resources minister , Ezekiel Maige, told the BBC that it intends to go ahead with such plans in a small contained area, reducing the park’s size by less than 1 percent. The UN World Heritage Center has said it will approve the plans as long as environmental impact assessments are conducted.

In a recent interview with the BBC Swahili Service, Maige, who is also Tanzania’s tourism minister, said the uranium mining project would be an important source of income for the country while not posing a safety threat, according to preliminary studies.

Impala in the Selous Game Reserve. Richard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [CCBY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

“Radiation levels will remain the same – the minerals in the ground are already emitting a degree of radiation, but it is not dangerous for human beings, animals or the [Mkuju] river,” said Maige in the interview.

Mining uranium from the site would be expected to bring in $200 million per year to private firms, Maige said, of which $5 million would be paid in royalties to the government. Part of that sum would assist with park management costs and would provide employment for about 1,600 Tanzanians. According to Maige, Tanzania currently spends almost a half-million dollars a year to manage the Selous reserve, and added funds would help efforts to curb wildlife poaching. The uranium would be processed abroad.

A UN team of experts is slated to visit the area to provide its own recommendations for the protection of the ecosystem, prior to a formal decision regarding the Selous Game Reserve boundaries at next year’s World Heritage Committee meeting.

Earlier this summer Tanzania halted plans to build a paved highway across the Serengeti after an outcry for the potentially devastating effect such a project would pose for wildlife, particularly the annual migration of the 1.5 million wildebeest and zebra that is one of the great wonders of the natural world.

Zebra migrating in the Serengeti. Photo Credit: Richard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons