'Serengeti Highway' threatens E.Africa's great migration

A A A

A project to build a road gashing through Tanzania's Serengeti park could put pay to one of the planet's greatest natural spectacles: the annual great wildebeest migration.

Millions of herbivores migrate from the Serengeti to Kenya's adjacent Maasai Mara each year, but the construction due to begin next year of a tarmacked road could see the migration stopped in its tracks by queues of steaming lorries.

The Serengeti Highway is supposed to link Musoma, on the banks of Lake Victoria, to Arusha, cutting through a swathe of park into which giant herds of wildebeests bottleneck every summer to seek Kenya's pastures.

Conservationists warn the road will disfigure the park and kill the migration while the project's proponents argue it is high time the state started caring for its people as much as it does for wildlife.

President Jakaya Kikwete, well on course to be re-elected on Sunday, made the road a campaign pledge in 2005 and has reiterated his support this year.

The two wildlife reserves, separated by the Mara river, form one ecosystem and are home to a migration which happens nowhere else in the world on the same scale, and was voted in 2008 one of the "new seven wonders of the world".

"We're in a situation where politicians are highjacking an ecosystem, an icon," Mike Rainy, one of the scientists spearheading the campaign against the road, told AFP

"We would worry about global climatic change, change in the rainfall pattern, horticulture, other human uses of the water. We would think that would be the threat. That was our concern until the annoucement of this highway."

In July and August each year hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles charge through the crocodile-infested Mara river to seek Kenya's pastures in a massive stampede.

Rainy, who has worked in Kenya for half a century, says the highway could spell the end of the ecosystem in a relatively short space of time.

"With the new road, we're talking a minimum of 400 lorries a day," he said.

Trucks would hit animals, human traffic would introduce domestic diseases and the road would provide an easy escape for poachers.

"It would be a filter on being able to move to water. And when that happens, 75 percent of the system will shrink and collapse. And it could take place very quickly, two to five years."

Environmentalists have launched internet and media campaigns and 27 scientists co-signed an article in Nature magazine opposing the project.

The authorities have tried to steer the debate back towards the need for development in one of the remotest corners of Tanzania, which is larger than France and Germany put together

"This is about development. The environmentalists are more interested in animals than in human beings," argued Edward Lowassa, the MP for the nearby constituency of Monduli.

"Tanzania has done a lot for wildlife, more than many others countries in Africa," said Lowassa, a former prime minister who had to resign in 2008 over graft allegations.

He reckons the road will bring economic development to the Maasai people living in abject poverty on the wide plains east of the park.

But Rainy sees the Serengeti as the country's most valuable asset.

He said Tanzania was shooting itself in the foot and said building the road was as egregious a mistake as if Egypt decided to bulldoze the pyramids to build another shopping mall.

Ironically, the Serengeti Highway's intended users are not always its most enthusiastic supporters.

"There are security problems," said Mohamed Farah, who drives a juggernaut of a truck across the region, including between Arusha and Lake Victoria.

"In the park, there are no regular police patrols, no police stations, no hospitals... We lorry drivers get problems on the road."

The very thought of a 40-tonne articulated lorry rumbling across the grassy plains of the Serengeti is heresy to Mike Rainy.

"How can we be so shortsighted to risk losing that. Without the great Serengeti-Mara, the world is infinitely poorer."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A PHP Developer with knowledge ...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - PHP

£33000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas