Every year between July and September, one million wildebeest migrate 1800 miles across the Serengeti plains of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. It’s one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights, and it’s huge business for the tourism industry, bringing around 100,000 visitors every year. Hotels and safari operators in Tanzania and Kenya usually stay fully booked during the migration months while charging triple their normal rates. And yet, Tanzania’s government plans to start construction in 2012 on a highway that would cut through Serengeti National Park. Tour operators and international conservation groups can’t believe it.
Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, has promised to bring economic development to the more remote parts of the country, and thinks the 480 km (300 mile) highway is necessary to connect the country’s capital and other commercial centers in the coastal east with the rest of the country. The government says only an unpaved 40 km (25 mile) section of the highway would pass through the Serengeti.
Conservations groups that have condemned the planned highway include the Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London, and The Frankfurt Zoological Society, a German conservation group that’s been the Serengeti’s main financial supporter for the past five decades. The FZS issued a statement with this dire warning:
The entire Serengeti will change into a completely different landscape holding only a fraction of its species and losing its world-class tourism potential and its status as the world’s most famous national park. It is an immense backlash against the goodwill and conservation achievements of Tanzania.
The FZS gets that Tanzania needs to grow economically, but feels there are better options for the highway that won’t jeopardize the park’s ecosystem or tourism dollars:
We recognize that there is an obvious need for infrastructure development in Tanzania. 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.
Time’s Ecocentric blog also points out that Tanzania tried to reroute the wildebeest migration with miles of wire fences in 1960s. The fences were quickly trampled.
Hopefully, the Tanzanian government will give in to pressure from outside and especially within their country and find a better solution, so generations to come can continue to witness wild wildebeest in all their glory:
[Image: Martin W. Grosnick]