Highway across the Serengeti

Tanzania’s plan to build a $480 million road through the Serengeti has been condemned by the world. Last week Johnnie Carson, US diplomat, told reporters he had already expressed concerns to the Tanzanian government over the road in April.

The US is added to the list of countries against the road. The plan however is still going ahead; the project will create a two lane highway across the Serengeti. It is expected to carry 300 vehicles a day by 2015, increasing to 3,000 by 2035. In doing so it will cut the famous animal migration route in two.

Around two million animals travel across the Serengeti in search of the rains every year. The journey is done twice by wildebeest and accompanying zebras and gazelles. Once from northern hills to the southern place and then back again. Their predators go also with them, from lions to hyenas.

Predation, hunger, exhaustion and starvation all make the migration dangerous enough as it is. It is estimated that 250,000 wildebeest die during the journey. Now they will have a motorway to cross. Scientists and conservationists have rallied against the project, saying that it will prevent the animals from completing their migration. This will affect all the other animals that depend on it, causing immense damage to the entire ecosystem. The solution seems simple, stop the highway.

But it’s not that easy. When then area was made a national park the population of Tanzania was only around 10 million, now it is reaching 43 million inhabitants. It has caused huge ‘human pressures’ on the area which basically means that these people must live somewhere and living doesn’t just mean housing, it means having the infrastructure in your country to support you, roads included.

At the moment getting across the country means a 418km route, with many people left completely isolated. Many Tanzanians feel the road will help bring them and their country out of poverty.  The human history if the wildlife area isn’t good either, Tanzanians remember their ancestors being kicked out of their homes and lands to make way for the national parks.

These memories and practical problems make the situation on the ground much more complex than it seems at our comfortable distance. But why does it always have to be people vs. wildlife? Why do the interests always necessarily have to compete? The only certainty is that conservation in Tanzania needs the support of local people if it is to succeed. More than that, it is local people who should be driving it not since it is their wildlife and their country.

But then again why should they when they feel like every decision taken so far has been in the favour of wildlife and against their own needs?

Tanzania needs a road and it should be one that does the least damage and brings the most benefit. This means looking at the both people and animals.  Tanzania’s wildlife need to be able to move across their country, so do Tanzania’s people. Their needs are the same, surely there must be a way to meet both.

Categories: Blog, Science ThoughtsTags: , , , ,

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