Conservation victory: Serengeti highway plans cancelled

Serengeti
Plans to build a paved, two-lane highway through the Serengeti National Park have been canceled.

The road, which was supposed to bring better access to Lake Victoria, will possibly be rerouted further south to avoid having an impact on the Serengeti’s rich wildlife.

There’s already a gravel road across the park, but paving it would have attracted much more traffic and probably fencing. The U.S. government expressed concern, as did UNESCO, after a study showed the project would affect the annual migration of millions of animals that’s one of the wonders of the natural world.

This is a rare victory of common sense over unbridled “development.” It’s also an example of how being eco-friendly can be good for the economy. Tourism generates a major part of Tanzania’s income, and there’s no way a road cutting through the nation’s most valuable natural resource wouldn’t have had a negative impact.

[Photo courtesy D. Gordon E. Robertson]

U.S. expresses concern over proposed Serengeti Highway

The Obama Administration questions a proposed Serengeti Highway. The U.S. government has expressed concern over a proposed new highway that would pass through the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, citing a study that indicates the road could have an adverse effect on the annual migration of animals there. Reportedly the Obama administration raised the issue with the Tanzanian government recently, and it could be a point of discussion for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently visiting the African country.

Last year, Tanzania announced plans to create the new highway, which officials say will help spur economic development in northern areas of the country. The plans immediately came under fire from environmentalists and scientists who predicted that the road would change the migration patterns of millions of wildebeests, zebra, antelope, and other animals that travel between Tanzania and Kenya each year. Opponents of the proposal even suggested an alternate route for the highway in order to lessen its impact on the Serengeti itself.

So far, all pleas to the Tanzanian government have fallen on deaf ears, and their plans to construct the new road are moving ahead. Ultimately, when it is complete, the highway will link the cities of Arusha and Musoma, although the plan now is to leave the 50 mile section that crosses through the Serengeti unpaved. Environmentalists say it isn’t the road itself that will alter the annual migration, but the amount of traffic that will pass through the area. The route is expected to be one of the busiest highways in northern Tanzania when it opens.

It is unclear at this stage if the U.S. government can do anything to alter the construction of the highway, but with Clinton in the country on a 3-day state visit, it seems likely that the topic will at least be broached at some point.

When I visited the Serengeti a few years back, I completely fell in love with the place. It is one of the most spectacular and magical places I have ever visited, and the thought of it being altered by this road is disheartening. Hopefully a compromise can be found that will limit the impact of the new highway, allowing the amazing animals that live there to roam freely.

Study says Serengeti Highway will impact migration

A proposed Serengeti Highway could mean big problems for the Great MigrationThe 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.

Scientists recommend alternate route for proposed Serengeti Highway

Back in July we posted a story about how the Tanzanian government had approved the construction of a new highway that would cut directly through the Serengeti National Park, which is home to a spectacular array of animal life. Officials explained how the new road was necessary in order to facilitate trade and continue economic development in the region, and that they expected the highway to have little impact on the Serengeti ecosystem. Unfortunately, the 290 scientists, from 32 different countries, who signed a recent petition, disagree with that sentiment.

Those scientists, who represent more than 50 different universities worldwide, are recommending that Tanzania find an alternate route around the Serengeti or face severe, negative, and irreversible damage to the environment there. Of most concern is how the increased traffic would impact the annual migration that takes place on the Serengeti plains during which time, millions of wildebeests, zebras, antelopes, and other animals travel across the region, playing an important role in helping the ecosystem to not only survive, but thrive. The fear is that if the migration is disrupted, it could lead to a complete collapse of that ecosystem.

The petition includes a survey of those same scientists in which they give their thoughts on a variety of topics in regards to the road. For instance, 85% of those surveyed said that they felt that it was either inevitable or very likely that the new highway would become a disruption or obstruction of the migration. Furthermore, 91% answered the same way when asked if they thought it would introduce invasive plants, animals, and diseases to the region.

The scientists join conservationists, international organizations, and the travel industry in condemning the plans to build the road. While all parties involved respect Tanzania’s desire to expand its economy, they also recognize that the Serengeti is a natural resource that is fragile and could easily be altered beyond repair.

While the local government is planning to move ahead with construction plans, the Save the Serengeti organization is still hoping to find an alternative solution. Personally, I hope they can too.