In what is being hailed as a victory for conservationists and the wildlife of the Serengeti, the Tanzanian government has cancelled plans for a controversial highway that would have dissected 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, with indirect impacts, such as poaching and new development, exacerbating the situation.
The mass migration of the Serengeti’s wildebeest is one of nature’s true wildlife spectacles, occurring no where else on the planet. It also brings in important tourism revenue to the relatively impoverished region.
“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.
A leaked government environmental impact study agreed with the findings of a recent scientific study that the road would ‘limit’ the Serengeti migration and damage predator populations (such as lions, hyaenas, cheetahs, leopards and crocodiles) due to a declining prey base.
The government estimated that by 2015, the road would carry 800 vehicles a day, mostly trucks, and that by 2035, 3,000 vehicles a day would be using the route – an average of one vehicle every 30 seconds.
“[The road's cancellation] is a wise and insightful decision by the Tanzanian Government,” said Andrew Dobson, one of the authors on the study.
“It will ensure the long-term persistence of the Serengeti ecosystem and its 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.”
The Tanzanian government’s official stance on the road was that it would connect remote Serengeti communities in the north to commercial centres. However, plans for the road had drawn criticism from the UN and the U.S. government, as well as the German government, who offered to pay for local roads for cut-off people in the northern Serengeti region. The World Bank also offered to pay for an alternative route circumventing the park.
In the statement on the road cancellation, the Tanzania government says it is now considering the alternative southern route.
“A battle has been won, but the struggle to save the Serengeti goes on. Roads will still be constructed up to the edges of the park. The pressures on the Serengeti, including a commercial corridor to Uganda, still exist. The highway across the Serengeti has been proposed three times now, and can be raised again. But yes, let’s congratulate ourselves on the work we’ve done,” reads a statement from the NGO Serengeti Watch.
Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author