Proposed Serengeti Road Severe Threat to Wildlife
Seregenti Highway development threatens the Great Migration and the Integrity of the Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara Reserve. A map of the Serengeti road is shown below.
Map of Proposed and Existing Roads in the Serengeti Region
Map produced by SavetheSerengeti.org
Serengeti Road: The Problem
Many people in Tanzania are in need of improved infrastructure for their economic well being. In particular, the Serengeti blocks commerce between the Lake Victoria area and villages to the east of the park as well as efficiency transiting between Arusha and the western side of the Serengeti.
It is generally accepted that a road is needed, however, the current alignment (in red on the map) would cut right through the Serengeti National Park. This would be a major highway with commercial trucks and high speed travel.
Serengeti Highway Ecological Impact on the Great Migration
Having a road bisect the Serengeti ecosystem could wreak havoc on the famed great migration of approximately 2 million animals, more then half that being wildebeest and then hundreds of thousands of zebra, eland, and gazelles. The migration has two essential geographic locations and the road would separate these critical areas.
In the Southern Serengeti/Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the calving area where 400,000 wildebeest are born each year. This is a shortgrass plains system that has formed with rich volcanic soils making the grasses particularly nutritious and rich in phosphorous. This is where the herds would like to live all the time but due to lack of water in the dry season and the toll that the huge numbers of grazing animals take the area becomes exhausted and the migration must move on. The area recovers with the rains months later and then the herds return to calve again. There is no alternative; this is the only place that can sustain such productivity within the region.
It is common to see tens of thousands of individual animals when you find the migrating herds.
Just imagine the competition on the road.
Video by Bill Given
As the dry season takes hold the herds must move to the far north of the Serengeti as the Mara River is the only permanent dry season source of water and the herds cannot survive without it. Many animals will make dangerous crossings of the Mara River to enter into Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve where there is typically more water and better grazing conditions.
Unfortunately, this part of the dynamic has already been under threat as increased livestock in the Mara region of Kenya has reduced the condition of grazing available to the migrating herds. As a result, some researchers are estimating that at least half the wildebeest herds remain in the northern Serengeti now and forego the Masai Mara. Without access to the dry season permanent water and grazing it is predicted by Frankfurt Zoological Society researchers that the wildebeest would decline from around 1.3 million to 200,000 putting an end to the best known migration in the world.
Initial Impact of Serengeti Road on Wildebeest, Elephants
When the road is first constructed it will not likely prevent the movements of the migration, in fact at times of the year it will be the migration that prevents the movement of vehicles. Inevitably there will be great loss in both human and animal life from collisions. To make the road function economically and safely the next step will be the need for fencing and that will put the stop to the migration and create an environmental catastrophe.
There is also an elephant migration that will be bisected by the road and face the same problem. Road access in other parks has been shown to cause additional issues too, increased access for poaching and introduction of exotic species being the two most harmful factors. Lastly is the simple assault making the Serengeti not feel as wild anymore and for those of us that know this region I can say that is a tragedy that cannot be quantified!
Economic Impact of the Serengeti Highway
A new road will open up new economic opportunities but currently Tourism is by far the number one foreign exchange earner in Tanzania bringing in over $1 Billion in 2009 while employing over 600,000 people. The Serengeti is the star attraction for tourists and if that draw was lost all the other parks would likely suffer as well.
The spectacle of the migration helps create large numbers
of jobs and earns huge foreign exchange for Tanzania and Kenya.
Photo © Bill Given
Likewise in Kenya, the Masai Mara is the big drawing card and if the migration no longer reaches the area there could be a big negative impact on Kenya tourism too. Not a good move to harm your neighbor like that, which I imagine could impact on trade between the nations.
Serengeti Road Alternatives: A Solution
Often times it is hard to avoid a difficult choice between what’s best for wildlife and local people. Fortunately in this case it is possible to route a road around the Southern portion of the Serengeti (see green route on map) and avoid the key wildlife areas altogether. However, this re-route does much more than just protect the Serengeti, it actually appears to benefit about five times as many people. It will provide better linkage to the existing major road system for many more villages then the current alignment would. The Frankfurt Zoological Society has produced an impressive presentation that outlines the increased benefits of using the alternative routes.
What Can You Do?
In today’s world there seems to be too many causes and things like petitions. I feel like they are overused and I don’t usually promote such things on my blog as there could certainly be a new cause every day. In general I think it is better to let people find their own interests to pursue and decide what side of the coin you want to be on. I’m also weary of us in the developed world shouting down those who are trying to follow in our footsteps while we insist they protect the natural heritage that we often plowed over in our own lands.
All that said I think this is a rare case where all objectives can be achieved for both the conservation of a truly deserving World Heritage site and the economic upliftment of people in a developing nation. It is critical that public opinion be heard so I recommend signing a petition to stop the serengeti highway.