The government of Tanzania has reopened discussions about building a tarmac (paved) highway across the northern part of Serengeti National Park, cutting directly across the path of the annual wildebeest migration.
This highway has been proposed in the past, and has always been prevented by the outcry of conservationists in Tanzania and around the world. The proposed highway will impact the migration, and will also “pave” the way for increased poaching with the easy access the road will provide to this wildlife-rich area of the park (think about what happened to the American Bison when the railroad opened up the Great Plains). It will also have a huge impact on tourism, and much of Tanzania’s national budget relies on the mystique of the Serengeti.
This scar across the landscape will also leave a scar across the human psyche. The Serengeti is just one of those places that the world needs. People all around the world dream of visiting the Serengeti, and for many of us it has risen to mythical prominence in our minds. It is “Wild Africa,” whether that is an appropriate characterization or not, and true wildness is in short supply these days.
It is one more indication of the world forgetting to value the beautiful, wild places that still remain. As humans, we have a hard time “taking the long view” when there is money to be made in the short-term. People want to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, sell the endangered rosewood trees from Madagascar and now build a road through the Serengeti, the home of the largest mammal migration left on the planet.
It is a perennial challenge for environmentalists and conservationists to quantify and put a dollar figure on the “value” of wildlife and wild places. They are trying to do that – there are whole fields of study now trying to put dollar values on “ecosystem services” and other things that the earth provides to us, but something just gets lost in the equation. It can’t be done. Not everything can be boiled down to dollars. Unfortunately, nothing seems to speak as loudly to decision-makers as dollars do.
There are alternatives to this road. The African Wildlife Foundation has made an alternative proposal to the Tanzanian government that you can find more about here.
You can also find out more about the situation on the Wildlife Direct site, one of my favorite sources for information about conservation in East Africa: STOP the Serengeti Highway – Baraza.
Even if you have never been there, I encourage you to take a moment and think about what the Serengeti means to you. Please share it with the rest of us in the comments section below.
Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala