Politics and policy
Kikwete’s comeback seen as threat to Serengeti park
Posted Wednesday, November 3 2010 at 00:00
He rattled off the reasons: cheaper goods; getting to the hospital faster; being better connected to towns; and having a higher chance of someday getting electricity and cell phone service.
It is hard to argue with him. Mr. Loshipa and his family eke out a living herding cows in what is essentially a desert.
There are fertile grasslands nearby. But they are mostly reserved for the animals.
This policy goes back to colonial times, when Maasai were summarily evicted from their lands for the sake of conservation.
It has left many Maasai destitute, with young men now converging in the towns to hustle tanzanite, a semiprecious local stone, or to seek poor-paying jobs as night guards.
None of the leading conservation groups pressing Mr. Kikwete to reconsider say they are trying to block the national highway altogether; they just oppose it running through the Serengeti, which is a Unesco World Heritage site.
Grass-roots groups are mobilising around the world, circulating petitions and setting up websites, like savetheserengeti.org.
Mr. Kikwete recently promised that the roughly 30-mile stretch through the park would not be tarmac, but packed dirt, like the mainly tourist roads already in the park.
But conservation groups say any major road would allow poachers to quickly get in, shoot the animals from the highway and get out.
Scientists say the ecological damage is very hard to predict but potentially enormous.
During the annual migration, the wildebeest produce more than 800,000 pounds of dung — per day — which nourishes the grasslands.
If the highway fragments that migration and makes the wildebeest turn back, “the whole ecosystem could crash,” said Bernard Kissui, a research scientist for the African Wildlife Foundation.
He spoke of a “cascading effect” on the lions, leopards, birds, plants, all interconnected in an ecological web that has been relatively undisturbed for eons.
The World Bank looked into financing such a highway around 20 years ago and rejected it, partly for environmental reasons.
New York Times