The annual migration of hundreds of thousands of animals across the Serengeti plains of East Africa is amongst the most spectacular natural wonders in the entire world. Each year, giant herds of wildebeests, zebras, antelopes, elephants, and more make a pilgrimage across those open landscapes in search of food and water. But a new study finds that a proposed highway through the region could have dire consequences for the Serengeti ecosystem and the animals that call it home.
The study, which was conducted by a team of biology and ecology professors from the U.S. and Canada, appeared recently in the scholarly journal PLoS ONE and predicts a dramatic impact on the Serengeti environment. The researchers came to the conclusion that wildebeest herds alone could be reduced by as much as 35%, with a similar impact possible for the other species in the region as well. Those predictions only take into account the increased traffic on the movements of the wildebeest herds and doesn’t factor in such other issues as car accidents and the potential for increased poaching.
One of the scientists who took part in the study, John Fryxell of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, has studied migration patterns for more than 30 years. He says that the proposed highway, which would cross a northern section of the Serengeti National Park, has the potential to completely transform the region. He cites the importance of the wildebeest migration to the entire ecosystem for his belief, saying “The wildebeest migration plays an important role in a number of key ecological processes, so this finding has important ramifications for ecosystem biodiversity, structure and function.”
We at Gadling have been closely following the developments of this highway for sometime, first sharing the story when the road was proposed last summer and then again when an alternate route was suggested this past fall. It seems that nearly everyone outside of the Tanzanian government believes this road is a bad idea, and yet it is still moving ahead with the plan none the less. We could be watching one of the last great, unspoiled places on the planet altered before our vary eyes, and it seems there is little we can do about it.