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Science & Environment

Hydroelectric Dam Project Could Threaten Tanzanian Game Reserve, Conservationists Say

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The Selous Game Reserve is one of Tanzania's most popular tourist attractions. It's also a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. And recently, it's been at the center of an international debate pitting conservation against development, as Halima Gikandi reports.

HALIMA GIKANDI, BYLINE: The sprawling game reserve spans more than 19,000 square miles in southern Tanzania. It's a popular destination for tourists who travel on safari in order to spot elephants, rhinos, wild dogs and other animals. But conservationists say the game reserve is now under threat due to a new infrastructure project by the Tanzanian government. On Friday, President John Magufuli inaugurated the construction of a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam that will be built on the Rufiji River in the reserve. The project is expected to bring electricity to millions of Tanzanians, but conservationists are concerned the dam will irreversibly damage the protected area, which has already been endangered by poaching.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the dam could also endanger the livelihoods of 200,000 people living downstream. But Magufuli has rejected environmental concerns. He says the dam will only take up 3% of the game reserve and is an environmentally friendly energy solution. He also shot back at international criticism by pointing out how much of the reserve is used for expensive game hunting and hotels that don't benefit ordinary Tanzanians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOHN MAGUFULI: (Through interpreter) People come, they enter the reserve. They kill lions, they kill any animal. They leave. And the lowest price for a hunting block is $5,000 per month.

GIKANDI: Magufuli announced he will cut part of the game reserve into a national park named after the country's founding president, Julius Nyerere.

For NPR News, I'm Halima Gikandi in Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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