Sunday, June 5, 2011

Highway to Hell: Serengeti Watch

Spotted Hyaenas with baby in the Serengeti © Thomas Knight
While Serengeti Watch is not a long established conservation organization and does not have many huge successes under their belt, I include it because although it is extremely new, its goal is crucial and time sensitive: stop a government-mandated highway's construction straight through the Serengeti, through its most sensitive part.  The plan is to build the highway next year, although Frankfurt Zoological Society researchers working in the Serengeti, other scientists globally, travel agents (and the tourism industry in toto), and concerned individuals have been requesting the government rethink their decision and instead reroute the highway outside the Serengeti.  I do not have any idea why the government doesn't reroute the highway, since rerouting it would increase economic growth within those villages along its path.  If the highway is built the way it is currently being proposed,  it is not going to make anyone happy.  Estimates are at least 3/4 of wildebeest which migrate will be decimated and may stop being migratory.  There will be incalculable roadkill wildlife losses and rhino poaching will increase substantially with increased access inside more sensitive reserve areas.  Cost over-runs will also eclipse the projected highway cost (wildlife barriers are needed which the current budget has not included).

Putting a radio transmitter on a wildebeest in the Serengeti © Thomas Knight zookeeper

Several years ago, while visiting researchers inside the Tanzanian Serengeti, the speed at which some vehicles would travel through the park unfavorably impressed me.  Several road-killed carnivores were brought during my stay there (and I was only there ~2 weeks) and I myself witnessed a guineafowl which a speeding lorry ran down by at one point.  This is a high roadkill rate along such a poorly maintained road.  If it were a highway running through the Serengeti instead of a potholed dirt road like the current road is, and in the sensitive Serengeti areas where the highway is planned instead of areas designated 'high use' where I largely was, the damage upon wildlife clearly will be devastating.
Beisa Oryx © Thomas Knight zookeeper

Do help Serengeti Watch prevent the highway cutting the Serengeti in twain.  Although it is a new organization, some well known conservation biologists are heading it.  Two I have met several times and you may well know them also.  Jim Fowler ("As Jim wrestles the anaconda" Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom fame, and additionally regularly featuring on Johnny Carson, Conan O'Brien, etc.) is an incredibly nice guy and has a strong animal ethic, an early nature documentary star, and unlike several other nature media stars (who shall remain unnamed) he is not a huge arrogant ego, but just someone who loves nature and wildlife.  Richard Estes (from the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation Research Center, Harvard's Museum of Natural History, & the IUCN Species Survival Commission) is an African mammal expert (perhaps the foremost hoofed mammal expert).  He amazed me when we have spoken previously- his ability to remember facts and details is unlike anything I have ever seen before.  He has a passion for African mammals and is almost certainly the most knowledgeable person regarding the hoofstock species which will be affected most.  If Richard Estes and Jim Fowler are involved, I feel sure this is in good hands.  So do join Serengeti Watch so you can be kept informed, donate if you can, and spread the word regarding the highway's current status among your friends and family to raise awareness concerning this pristine wildlife habitat.  My Serengeti visit at the migration's beginning topped my amazing life experiences list.  It would be beyond tragic if a short-sighted road construction ended future opportunities to have this experience.  If you do nothing else regarding this situation, send information about it among your friends and family.  The more global awareness there is concerning what is happening, the more likely it is that it will be stopped.

UPDATE:  The Tanzanian government has just published a letter announcing they will not build the road after all.  Unfortunately, it appears it might just be a distracting ploy, especially since the Tanzanian government has used the same ploy already several times.

The following two books were both written by Richard Estes and are must-have books if you are visiting Africa or are just interested in the wildlife:

Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Animals by Richard Estes
 The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Animals

Behavior Guide to African Mammals by Richard Estes
 The Behavior Guide to African Mammals
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1 comment:

  1. Nice article and thank your valuable information and I wish you luck