After much confusion, the Tanzanian government has clarified its plans for the highly controversial Serengeti highway, confirming that it now plans to build a gravel road through the park.
Previous plans to construct a paved highway through the Serengeti National Park had drawn much criticism from environmentalists, scientists and governments, and reports that the road had been cancelled were hailed as a victory for conservation and wildlife. Scientists were concerned about the potential impacts of the highway on the 2 million wildebeest, zebra and antelope which pass through the park on their annual migration from Tanzania to Kenya.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, has now confirmed that the road will still go ahead, but that the plans have been amended. “The Serengeti road project has not been abandoned… we have just revised it. But the road will be unpaved, so there will be no tarmac road or highway traversing through the Serengeti National Park,” he said.
Access to the road will be managed by the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), with game rangers controlling traffic with gates in an effort to avoid disturbing the wildlife.
Controversial highway criticised
Critics of the project have warned that even an unpaved road would threaten the Serengeti’s wildlife, with commercial and population pressure likely to lead to it eventually being paved and widened. As well as threatening the migration, a road could potentially affect predator populations and also impact on tourism in the area.
The World Bank had offered to fund an alternative southern route for the road, which would circumvent the park. According to Dave Blanton of the NGO Serengeti Watch, “This route is preferable to the northern route for maximum social and economic development. And it will allow a relief valve for traffic, present and future, that would travel through the Serengeti itself. The government letter says it was ‘seriously considering’ this. We need to support this effort and make sure it is accomplished. Otherwise, we’ve not gone forward.”
Mining plans for Selous Game Reserve
The news on the Serengeti road comes amid new reports that Tanzania is to go ahead with plans to mine uranium in the Selous Game Reserve, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This reserve is home to large numbers of elephants, black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles, and is relatively undisturbed by humans.
According to Mr Maige, the plans would affect less than 1% of the Selous and would provide an important source of income for the country, as well as providing revenue to help manage the park. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre has said it will approve the plans as long as environmental assessments are carried out.
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Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author