Tanzania: Serengeti road cancelled

In what is a victory for environmentalists, scientists, tourism, and the largest land migration on Earth, the Tanzanian government has cancelled a commercial road that would have cut through the northern portion of the Serengeti National Park. According to scientists the road would have severed the migration route of 1.5 million wildebeest and a half million other antelope and zebra, in turn impacting the entire ecosystem of the Serengeti plains.

“The State Party confirms that the proposed road will not dissect the Serengeti National Park and therefore will not affect the migration and conservation values of the Property,” reads a statement from the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.

According to a recent scientific study direct impacts from the road would have cut the wildebeest herd down by over one-third (over half a million animals) with indirect impacts, such as poaching and new development, exacerbating the situation.

“[The road’s cancellation] is a wise and insightful decision by the Tanzanian Government,” Andrew Dobson, who was one of the authors on the study, told mongabay.com. “It will ensure the long-term persistence of the Serengeti ecosystem and it’s world famous wildebeest migration, while also providing infrastructure to the people who live to the East of the Serengeti. It allows Tanzania to show great leadership to other African nations, by illustrating that the way to economic success in the 21st Century is to balance natural resource conservation with economic development.”

Female lion guards a wildebeest kill in Tanzania. A leaked government study warned that the now-cancelled road project would have hurt the Serengeti’s big predator species. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler. A leaked government environmental impact study largely agreed with Dobson’s study, finding that the road would ‘limit’ the Serengeti migration and hurt predator populations (lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, crocodiles, etc.) due to a declining prey base.

By 2015, the government report predicted that 800 vehicles per day would cross the proposed 30 mile (50 kilometer) stretch of the park. By 2035, the number of vehicles per day is expected to rise to 3,000, or well over a million a year. Conservationists and researchers in the area told mongabay.com that these were conservative figures.

For over a years conservationists warned that the road would eventually kill the iconic migration, crippling Tanzania’s tourism industry and ending one of the last great wildlife spectacles on the planet. Wildlife NGOs fought fiercely against the road, including crafting images of wildebeest being mowed down by semi-trucks.

But concern regarding the road came from more than just environmentalists. The US and German governments, as well as the UN, voiced opposition to the road plans. The World Bank offered to pay for an alternative route circumventing the park, while the German government offered to pay for local roads for cut-off people in the northern Serengeti region. Connecting far-flung local populations was the Tanzanian government’s line on the need for the road, however many suspected that the road was being aggressively pushed as part of an industrial corridor to bring raw materials from the African interior quickly and cheaply to the coast. In the statement on the road cancellation, Tanzania says it is considering the alternative southern route.

Read full story: http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0623-hance_serengeti_road.html