Road to Bisect the Serengeti

August 25, 2010

The government of Tanzania plans to build a highway through Serengeti National Park, potentially disrupting one of the world’s biggest migrations of large mammals and jeopardizing a popular tourism destination. WCS and partners urge the country's officials to consider alternate routes.

The word “Siringitu” in Swahili means “the place where the land moves on forever.” The Serengeti’s 5,700 square miles span many thriving ecosystems and play host to one of the mightiest migrations of land mammals on the planet.

Wildebeest, zebras, lions, leopards, wild dogs, elephants, rhinos, and cheetahs roam this section of central Africa. The charismatic wildlife and vast scenery attract more than 90,000 tourists to the Serengeti each year. Still, through this land that seemingly moves on forever, the Tanzanian government wants to build a highway, an asphalt barrier that would divide the wilderness.

“The Serengeti is the site of one of the last great ungulate migrations left on Earth, the preeminent symbol of wild nature for millions of visitors and TV viewers, and a hugely important source of income for the people of Tanzania through ecotourism,” said Dr. James Deutsch, Executive Director of WCS-Africa. “To threaten this natural marvel with a road would be a tragedy. We implore the Tanzanian government—known around the world for its commitment to conservation—to reconsider this proposal and explore other options.”

The proposed Arusha-Musoma highway would link the districts of Serengeti and Loliondo with the national road system. This would connect the Tanzanian coast and the hinterland, a move that would benefit the country’s agricultural markets. The government plans to begin highway construction in 2012.

If built, the road would bisect the northern area of Serengeti National Park. For the park’s wildebeest population, the roadway would limit access to the Mara River, a critical water source during the dry season.

The highway might also keep the migration from Kenya’s Masaai Mara National Reserve, the country's most popular tourism destination.

 “A commercial road would not only result in wildlife collisions and human injuries, but would serve to fragment the landscape and undermine the ecosystem in a variety of ways,” said Prof. Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s director of conservation, “To diminish this natural wonder would be a terrible loss for Tanzania and all future generations.”

WCS, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and other organizations hope the Tanzanian government will consider alternative routes, which could satisfy Tanzania’s transportation needs without disrupting one of the Earth’s top natural wonders. ZSL and WCS are partners in the long-term monitoring and conservation of Serengeti’s cheetahs.

“We recognize that there is an obvious need for infrastructure development in Tanzania,” said Markus Borner, Africa Program Director for the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which has worked in the Serengeti since the 1950s. “A far better option than the current proposal is placing a road to the south of the park. Such a road would be both cheaper to construct and would serve a much larger number of people without interrupting the migration and jeopardizing the iconic status of the Serengeti National Park.”

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