The Long and Winding Serengeti Road

The global conservation community has been fighting a declaration from the government of Tanzania stating its intent to build a commercial road through Serengeti National Park. Recently, the government restated its position in a letter (PDF) to the UN’s World Heritage Center: no commercial road will be built across the Serengeti. 

This letter should be seen as a win to the conservation community. Here’s what Frankfurt Zoological Society Director Markus Borner, who has been leading the charge to stop the road through the Serengeti, stated:

“In a nutshell the conclusions were:

  1. All roads in the Serengeti National Park remain under the authority of Tanzania National Parks. No public/commercial roads.
  2. Park roads will be mainly for tourism and management. Commercial use is only an exception, and not more than at present.
  3. No tarmac in the ecological fragile zone outside the National Park between Loliondo and Mugumu (a stretch of 126 km) and no tarmac adjacent to the park boundaries.”

Sounds great. Job well done, right? But why then are many people still frustrated and not sure this is the best final outcome? 

The first problem that many see is that roads will still be paved to just outside Serengeti on the west and the east, so “connecting the dots” in the future will be an easier task.

Additionally, many feel that these roads will improve access to ecologically significant Lake Natron, potentially making the long-debated extraction of soda ash more viable.

And finally, it looks like funding will be made available to develop the southern route. While the southern route does not bisect Serengeti, it might pass right through Yaeda Valley, home of the Hadza hunter-gatherers.

Most conservationists agree that improving the road network and supporting development are critical for Tanzania. But we all wish the process could be more transparent and more considerate of ecologically significant areas in northern Tanzania.

Perhaps we now have the compromise we have all been looking for. But this conservationist isn’t quite sure just yet.

Matt Brown is director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Africa.

(Image: Elephants crossing the existing northern park road inside of Serengeti National Park. Source: Matt Brown/TNC)

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  1. holy crap….the Tanzanian govt is agreed to abide by the main thrust of the argument…shut up already, quit being stupid and work with the govt on this……no one needs to alienate them – they could just build the original road.. some people are just sore winners…..

  2. Conservation is all about compromise. For a developing country to recognize ecologically important areas and to make decisions benefiting those areas instead of promoting economic growth at the cost of wildlife should be considered a HUGE conservation win. It may not be ideal but it is better than the alternative of a high-speed asphalt road across the area.

  3. What a relief that there will be no commercial road built through the Serengeti! This is indeed a huge success. Let’s hope for more good decisions that result in the best possible compromise between the well being of people and wildlife. I loved my visit to the Serengeti.

  4. We have been following this very closely. It has been great news that the decision has been made, and that is what the right one.

    Thanks for the post!

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