For the time being, big trucks will not barrel through Serengeti National Park, a World Heritage Site and location of one of the world’s most important animal migration routes. At the end of June, the Tanzanian government announced it would suspend plans to construct a paved, commercial highway through the northern section of the Serengeti. The government will, however, go forward with a gravel road through the park, but claims the road will be managed by the Tanzania National Parks authority and used only for tourism and administrative purposes.
Every year, up to 1.5 million wildebeest and half a million zebra, antelope, gazelle and other mammals move across the park and the adjoining Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya to chase the rain and the greening of the grass that follows in its wake. Scientists (as well as a leaked environmental impact study commissioned by the government) say a paved commercial roadway would sever the migration route and devastate populations of grazing animals, in turn severely impacting the lions, cheetahs, hyenas, crocodiles and other predators dependent upon them. Opponents of the highway say it would also damage the country’s important tourism industry. An estimated 150,000-200,000 people visit the park annually to photograph big cats and other denizens of the savannah.
Potential impacts of the gravel road remain a big question - and many fear it will only serve as the first step toward eventual pavement. Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, has defended the highway project as a way to connect isolated communities in the area. Many activists and observers, however, view it as part of a larger scheme by the government to establish an industrial corridor to move raw materials quickly and cheaply from the interior to the coast for export. For now, the Tanzanian government says it will consider an alternative southern route that bypasses the park.