They want to build a highway where? The Battle for the Serengeti
The Serengeti National Park spreads out over more than 14,000 square kilometers from the northern border of Tanzania. The unique biodiversity of this region gained its UNESCO world heritage status in 1951. It is home to what is known as the great migration – a yearly event which sees the movement of millions of wildebeest, zebras, and other grazers to fertile pastures in the north. The Serengeti is also a large source of revenue and jobs for Tanzanians as it draws some 300,000 visitors per year. However, this iconic landscape is threatened and the international conservation community is battling to save this ecosystem.
The Tanzanian government announced in 2010 its intention to build a national highway bisecting the Serengeti National Park. It would also, consequently, run through the path of the great migration interrupting some of the most important and well-known natural cycles in Africa. The response was an international outcry from scientists, conservationists and UNESCO, that such a program would irreparably damage this ecosystem. The movement of trucks, buses, and cars through this area would result in increased wildlife deaths, poaching, and the introduction of invasive plant species. In addition, the inevitable disruption of the yearly migrations would severely damage one of the largest carbon sinks on the planet - a devastating global environmental blow.
The 2010 UNESCO WHC 34th session issued a proposed alternative route, which avoided the park but still provided the desired benefits to rural areas. Tanzanians themselves expressed concerns about the negative impact on tourism and their fear that the government was squandering the nation’s trusteeship of their wildlife in the long term. In response to mounting pressure, the Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism released a letter in June 2011, which stated that the Serengeti road would be gravel not paved, and that they were considering a paved highway along the alternate southern route. The lack of a clear commitment to avoiding the park did nothing to ease the concerns of scientists and conservationists around the world; a road of any sort will seriously damage the ecosystem.
The intensity of international pressure continues, and the Tanzanian government has been repeatedly petitioned to accept the southern alternative route. There is now a court case challenging the Tanzanian government’s decision and seeks a permanent injunction to stop the construction of the road through the national park. However, the Tanzanian authorities have continued their plans for the Serengeti road and the June 2012 BirdLife organization report found that some commercial traffic was already passing through the Serengeti National Park. The world’s conservation community will continue to battle for the Serengeti – but it will survive only if the world helps it survive.
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Photos of wildebeest & zebras Okavango Delta, Botswana by Lorelei
Serengeti National Park website
Save The Serengeti website
Oct 2010 Serengeti Road Plan Offers Prospects and Fears
March 2011 Serengeti highway threatens national park's wildebeest migration
June 2011 Tanzania: No Serengeti Highway
June 2011 Is the Serengeti Highway Really Cancelled?
June 2012 Serengeti highway back on World Heritage agenda
Aug 2012 Tanzania’s Serengeti Highway plan could destroy major carbon sink
Information regarding the ANAW legal action