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Serengeti Requiem?

Posted: 02/04/11 03:40 PM ET

The Serengeti in Tanzania is the world's greatest national parks. Each January, when 2 million wildebeest and zebra give birth amid the heroic landscape of the southern grass plains, a scene of biblical splendor unfolds. Then, in April, the animals set off on the epic Great Migration.

All this may soon come to an end. The Tanzanian government intends to build a commercial road through the north of the Serengeti, bisecting the route of the migration. Its ostensible purpose is to connect the city of Musoma on Lake Victoria to the ports of the Indian Ocean.

Conservationists are universally horrified. It is predicted that the migration will effectively cease, the wildebeest population will collapse and life will become a great deal easier for poachers. The outrage is fueled by the existence of an alternative (longer) southern route, which avoids the park entirely.

So why do it? Prior to last October's presidential elections, it was widely supposed that this was a blatant attempt to win votes. But President Kikwete has just been reelected to a second term, and the road plan hasn't gone away. Perhaps a calculation has been made that trade with the emerging economies of Central / Eastern Africa will become much more lucrative than wildlife tourism. Huge quantities of oil (2 billion barrels by one estimate) have recently been discovered in Uganda, and a regional boom is predicted.

Of course, African people have a right to development. But the Serengeti is Nature's equivalent to Chartres Cathedral. And if it is not possible to preserve the world's greatest national park, then what, ultimately, will remain?

 

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