Serengeti highway vs great migration route – part 1: The background

by Fran
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How far will humanity go in damaging nature? The proposed Serengeti Highway threatens to bisect the Great Migration route.
How far will humanity go in damaging nature? The proposed Serengeti Highway threatens to bisect the Great Migration route.
  • The Great Migration is one of the world's natural wonders.
  • The Tanzanian Government's transport planning involves the development of a major commercial highway - approximately 35 miles of this highway will bisect the Great Migration route.
  • The project has been in the planning for more than 20 years and planning continues...

Our continuously increasing global population is leaving impact damages across the globe. Even Africa, which may seem far removed from the smog air pollution of crowded cities, high greenhouse gas levels and excessive resource consumption, but that does not leave the continent without humanity’s huge and deep footprint. Today, only two great game migration routes remain in Africa.  One, the Serengeti migration route, is threatened by the proposal to build a highway through the migration route and across Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

The plans to build a highway through the Serengeti are not new; it's been around for more than two decades. The planned highway is in the annual Great Migration domain: 750,000 zebra, 1.2 million wildebeest and thousands of other East African game trek up to 1,800 miles across the Serengeti, from Tanzania to Kenya’s Masai Mara, in search of food and water.  Every year at the end of East Africa’s rainy season, we are offered one of the world’s greatest natural sights.  We find ourselves glimpsing into the lives of herd animals following their instincts.  There are many obstacles and dangers along the way.  Predators line the migration route, aiming for the young and weak, and then there’s big Grumeti River than needs to be crossed.  But perhaps the biggest obstacle faced by the migratory species is the proposed Serengeti highway.

Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is a true wilderness area, with limited infrastructure and only staff members allowed to reside in the park permanently.  The park covers 5,700 square miles, lending truth to the literal meaning of “Serengeti” – the place where the land runs forever.  The park enjoys a number of formal protection listings, including protection from UNESCO’s World Heritage Site listing and the local Tanzanian National Parks Authority. 

More than twenty years ago, the Tanzanian Government identified what they considered to be a need for a commercial highway.  The intended purpose of the commercial road is to create a major transit route linking Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern Congo.  The current plans involve approximately 35 miles bisecting the northern wilderness section of the park – crossing the Great Migration route! Tanzania applied to the World Bank for funding two decades ago when the plans first came under discussion.  An Environmental Impact Assessment was undertaken and based on the assessment’s outcome, the World Bank refused funding for the project.  Even in its early days it was clear: the project has major red flags.  Initially, the Tanzanian Government envisioned that construction would be completed during early 2012 and that significant volumes of traffic will be diverted to the newly developed highway.  But the international conservation community reacted vehemently from the very first moment.  And yet it does not take a conservation scientist to realize what’s at stake: the Serengeti wilderness is of irreplaceable value and millions of animals depend on the safe keeping of the park.  On the other side, the economic need for improved transport for the region was apparent decades ago, and even more so today.  Although the World Bank offered financing for alternative transport options, these were rejected by the Tanzania Government.  And twenty years on, the Tanzanian Government insists on the importance of building this commercial highway.

In the next upcoming article, the environmental impacts of the proposed highway will be explored in greater detail.  What impact will the road have on the game populations?  What will it mean for the protection of the park?  How desperately does the local and neighboring communities need this commercial highway?  Are there feasible and environmentally acceptable alternatives?  Find these answers in Part 2 of this series!


Sources and credits

The proposed Serengeti Road (2010). The Frankfurt Zoological Society, Serengeti National Park
UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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Serengeti highway vs great migration route – part 1: The background
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