How a road through the Serengeti will effect wildlife, conservation efforts and The Great Migration

Note from Billie Frank: When I read about the proposed road through the Serengeti in Tanzania and the effect on the eco-system and The Great Migration, I was saddened. I fell in love with this stark landscape and the animals that live there on the big screen while watching Out of Africa. Ever since, it’s been my dream to go there. Why are they building this road? A prime reason is to move rare minerals to the coast faster. These minerals are used in batteries for cell phones, laptops and hybrid cars. The irony is the very cars that are touted as saving our environment are ruining a far more precious one. I hadn’t heard about this issue and it struck me others hadn’t either. I asked Sandy Salle of Hills of Africa who knows the region well to write a guest blog about how the highway will affect this area she knows and loves.

Trees in the Serengeti

Several months ago, the Tanzanian Government made the decision to build a highway through the wildlife-rich Serengeti that connects the Dar es Salaam port with Musoma. Unfortunately, this construction could have dire consequences for the wildlife that inhabit this region, and pass through it during The Great Migration, which is an annual occurrence of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra.

Every year, The Great Migration occurs around the general rainfall of the area and influences grazing patterns. What makes this site so spectacular is not just its irresistible beauty, but the unimaginable amount of game that passes through this lively region in search of water during The Great Migration, one of the major wonders of the world.

The migration begins in Kenya and slowly moves back toward the short grasses of the Serengeti, following the short rains, which usually occur in late October/early November. Once the grass plains have lost their water supply, the migration follows the rains northwest in order to find lush grass. This change of scenery usually occurs in May.

Maasai tribesman in traditional dress, photo courtesy of Hills of Africa

If a highway is built that passes through the Serengeti, the wildebeest and zebra populations will face serious consequences. As the human population expands, so will the road and so will the traffic that passes along the road. The wildebeest will be forced in a different direction to find food and water—resources that are difficult to come by.

The Tanzanian Government believes that the construction of this road will have positive effects on the economies of East Africa. Although this is a great possibility, this construction will increase traffic through the area and could introduce higher levels of poaching and pollution to the region, effecting the delicate habitats and resident wildlife of the Serengeti.

On the one side, the road is necessary for economic expansion. The population of the world is growing steadily and with expansion you must accommodate with infrastructure. If the population continues to increase in the areas between Dar es Salaam and Musoma, it will become extremely difficult to sustain the local economies without a sound route to transport goods and travel.

On the other side, if the wildebeest and zebra populations decrease—or even worse, become extinct—you’re looking at a devastating hit to the food chain and even to the tourism and safari industry.

Wildebeest grazinng at sunset on the Serengeti, photo courtesy of Hills of Africa

Many conservationists, economists, and traffic experts agree that there are various ways to avoid negative effects on the wildlife while increasing economic stability across the region. They believe that there are several alternatives to creating a road that bisects the Serengeti. Some of these options include building the road further north or south, or raising the road above the ground so that wildlife could pass freely below it. Although these alternatives might be more expensive, in the end, they will help to preserve The Great Migration and the wildlife of the Serengeti.

What are your thoughts on the development of this highway through the Serengeti?



Sandy Salle is CEO and co-owner of Hills of Africa Travel. A native of Zimbabwe, Sandy was born and raised in southern Africa and was fortunate to travel to many places in the southern part of the continent. While she is now happily an American citizen, she does miss Africa—the smell of the first rains, the beautiful sunsets, and the magic of the people. Believing the next best thing to living in Africa is sharing it with others, in 2002, she joined Hills of Africa Travel as a partner with her sister-in-law, Meredith Hill. Sandy is Hills of Africa’s personal escort and takes great pride in giving her clients the once-in-a-lifetime magical African experience they’ll remember forever. For more information, visit Hills of Africa’s website, and blog, and connect with Sandy on Twitter and Facebook.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

14 Responses to “How a road through the Serengeti will effect wildlife, conservation efforts and The Great Migration”

  1. Sandy Salle
    January 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to guest post on Santa Fe Travelers! I hope that this post raises awareness about the efforts to build a highway across the Serengeti and the possible effects it could have on the wildlife and environment. In my opinion, there are other ways to go about constructing this road, without effecting the fragile wildlife of this beautiful region. It would be devastating if the Great Migration was deteriorated due to a high-traffic highway.

    I’d love to hear your readers’ thoughts on this!

    • Billie Frank
      January 26, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

      We really appreciate you taking the time to write this. It’s so important to raise awareness about the road and for people to weigh in. I think a lot of people are unaware of the proposed road and its ecological ramifications. I, too would love to hear what readers have to say about it.
      Coincidentally, I ran into a friend from Kenya today and asked him if the Kenyan people want progress or want things to remain essentially the same. I felt that as an outsider, maybe I was looking at this from a skewed position. His answers were interesting.

  2. Michelle Salater
    January 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I had no idea this was in the works! I appreciate Sandy’s efforts to help shed light on this issue. I can see the pros and cons of building this highway, however, I believe the cons far outweigh the pros. I agree with Sandy that there must be other ways to build this highway without effecting the wildlife of the Serengeti and the stunning Great Migration.

    • Billie Frank
      January 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

      I, too, appreciate Sandy’s efforts and yours for taking the time to leave a comment. I ran across this quite by accident. I read something about it on the web one day. I did a bunch of reading on it and there are other ways to build the road, they are somewhat more expensive. One of the things the road will do, according to what I read and our Kenyan friend is make it easier for poachers. Many of the beautiful animals that roam these plains are highly sought after and very endangered. They will even be more threatened if it is easier to access the area.

  3. Ray Beckerman
    January 26, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    It would be an outrage. When will we ever learn?

    “[W]hen the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more,
    another heaven and another earth must pass…
    before such a one can be again.” ~William Beebe

    • Billie Frank
      January 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

      Thanks for the comment and that beautiful quote. (And a very good question.)

  4. Scott Jones
    January 27, 2011 at 7:52 am #

    Sadly, humanity sees things from a very short term perspective. Can another way be found? Can humans learn to live in harmony with our environment? Not anytime soon I am afraid….

  5. Maya Northen
    January 27, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Thank you for this post! It saddens me to see that seemingly the first option that is thought of is to disrupt the landscape and the homes of these amazing animals. While it might be more expensive to adjust where the highway is built, in the long run, it would benefit Tanzania in so many ways – they’d still have the benefits of increased infrastructure without disrupting the food chain or the tourism industry! I did a safari in Botswana last year, and my guide told me that she feels that the land of Botswana belongs to the animals that the people must work around this. I loved the philosophy. Without these animals, so much of the money that comes to the countries for safaris, accommodations, etc would not be there, and the effect on the country would be pronounced. It seems, unfortunately, that people fail to this of this in short-sighted planning.

    • Billie Frank
      January 27, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. It saddens me, too. I love your guides philosophy, thanks for sharing it. If enough voices rise up, maybe they will be heard.

  6. roy stilley
    January 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    in january of 2010 i visited the serengheti. it was the most magical time of my life. why they would build a road through it when they could more easily and cheaply build one around the serengheti. this is especially confusing because tanzania has had a good record environmentally. im sure this will cost tanzania in the long run because if u take away the serengheti wildlife there goes their tourism and the jobs of all who work in tourism. i just hope they come to their senses and build it farther south.

    • Billie Frank
      January 27, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

      I would love to go there!
      Actually, I think that it’s shorter and cheaper to build the road through the Serengeti or it wouldn’t be an issue. From what I’ve read, they are hoping that the minerals that will go across the road make way more money than tourism ever will. It’s short-sighted and the results will be dire. The good news, is a lot of people are speaking up. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  7. tina sands webb
    May 13, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    I think that the construction phase alone is certainly going to desvastate the lake, churning up sediment and thus destroying the food sources for the flamingos and their nesting areas. Pollutants from the equipment are also going to effect the water. These flamingos have no place to go. This would destroy the lake at the onset, with no turning back. The construction of the proposed highway and the amount of people and equipment is going to upset the balance of nature by this intrusion. I would think that the government will have shoot to kill orders on any wildlife as this highway is built and probably turn into a free for all against the wildlife.

    • Billie Frank
      May 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

      That is a very dismal picture! Tried to find an update on where the project is currently. There’s nothing online. Hope that’s good news.

  8. Traveling Ted
    June 25, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    I have seen video of wildlife crossing crocodile infested waters, but I have never seen clips on PBS of animals darting through automobile traffic. This does not sound good to me.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge