Tanzania halts road plans across Serengeti

By Kizito Makoye, Dar es Salaam – Tanzania has stopped plans to build a tarmac road across Serengeti National Park.

wildebeestsMinister for Tourism and Natural Resources, Ezekiel Maige, confirmed to this reporter that the government has considered recommendations of the Environmental Impact Assessment study  carried out prior to the project, thus it has resolved to rescind its plans for the sake of   the park’s ecosystem.

Mr. Maige, however, insisted that the existing gravel road  in the park would still be used for tourism purposes.

Tanzania  proposed a 50km  highway across the park in its bid to stimulate economic activities of towns  around the Serengeti.

Various studies, however, cautioned that the proposed road would affect  annual migration of wildebeests- which is considered by UNESCO among the wonders of the world.

Minister Maige  confirmed to have sent  a letter to World Heritage Centre in Paris on this matter but could not disclose its content.

According to Maige,  the government is considering an alternative  route  which would entirely diverge from the park.

The government move to halt Serengeti road comes as the United States expressed concerns over the project urging authorities here to reconsider its plans that environmentalists believe would threaten the wildebeest migration into Kenya.

The East African quoted top US diplomat, Johnnie Carson as saying  “ the Obama administration is fully aware of the concerns that have been raised in this country and in other countries about the environmental impact that the trans-Serengeti road will have on the very large spectacular and almost unique migration of animals from the Serengeti up to the game parks in Kenya”

He added“ Tanzanian officials know the value of the wildlife, the importance of the Serengeti, they have no desire to destroy that, but they also are looking for ways to stimulate economic development in other parts of the country.”.

Last year, a group of scientists warned that the proposed road across the park could bring the number of wildebeest in the park, estimated at about 1.3 million, down to 300,000.

Any damage to wildlife were, they warned, could also affect the local economy, in which tourism plays a major role.

The researchers described the Serengeti as “a rare and iconic example of an ecosystem driven by a large mammal migration”.

Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.