Sunday, February 20, 2011

Serengeti Super Highway: A Dead End for Animals

New road could disrupt last great migration

The oldest national park in Tanzania, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its biodiversity and ecological significance, the Serengeti is a unique and awe-inspiring place. It is best known as the home of the last great mammal migration on Earth: The annual journey of almost two million ungulates, including wildebeests, zebras and gazelles, is of important ecological significance and a sight unlike anything else in the world.

Unnecessary risk
Reports from 2010 confirm that the Tanzanian government is getting ready to develop a highway that would bisect the park and cut directly through the animals’ migration route. Officials reason that a road would boost economic development, connect isolated communities and allow for the movement of commodities; yet there is an alternative that would accomplish all of these things without disrupting a vital natural event. This alternate road, which takes a southern route around the park, would ultimately connect more people and cost less to build.

Deadly impact
The proposed road through the middle of the park would allow the rapid, easy spread of invasive plant species and animal diseases via large trucks driving through the region carrying plant seeds on their tires or domesticated livestock. Roads also allow for much easier access to wildlife and therefore lead to increased poaching. Inevitably, a road will lead to further construction and human activity. The biggest problem would be the fragmentation of this critical landscape and the disruption of animal movements. Large herds of animals would cause frequent collisions on the road, endangering not only their own lives but those of people as well. To address this problem, fencing could be erected; however, this would likely put an end to the great migration and have a ripple effect on the ecosystem.

Wide-ranging consequences
The millions of animals who migrate annually through the Serengeti spread nutrients throughout the ecosystem via their urine and feces. This helps maintain a diversity of plants to support a large variety of wildlife. These ungulates are also a major source of food for other animals such as lions. Finally, should this road go ahead and the migration cease, not just the landscape, but the livelihoods of people working in the tourism industry would be affected because the annual migration and diversity of wildlife draw many visitors to the region every year.

Sad precedent
The serious impact that a simple road can have is well-known and documented. Botswana is a good example , having lost its wildebeest and zebra migrations due to a fenced road. A fragmenting road in Banff National Park in Canada also had similar compromising effects on elk migration. More examples have been documented around the world. We already know what will happen in the Serengeti and it is undoubtedly a terrible idea to move forward with the creation of this highway.

Preventing disaster
HSI has joined with local African NGO, African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), to help prevent construction of this “super highway.” They have hired a lawyer and filed a case with the East African Court of Justice against the building of the road. Helpfully, an Environmental Assessment document commissioned by the Tanzanian Government actually outlines the inevitable negative impacts this road would have on the Serengeti, an assessment which will provide great leverage towards putting an end to the proposed project.