Wildebeests face blockage threat

What you need to know:

  • Dar's plan to put up highway in Serengeti park would hamper migration spectacle

The future of the world-famous wildebeest migration spectacle at Kenya’s Masai Mara hangs in the balance following Tanzania’s plan to put up a 480-kilometre highway through its Serengeti National Park.

The news that the controversial plan has not been shelved were disclosed by sources the office of Tanzania’s Vice-President.

“The plan is still at the ministerial level. When it reaches us, we will decide and the decision will be made public,” the senior official in the VP’s office told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Environmentalists have voiced concern that the planned road, from Arusha across the Unesco-listed wildlife sanctuary to the shores of Lake Victoria, would devastate the ecosystem and disrupt wildlife migration.

Some lawmakers too, have also argued that the road would be a freeway for poachers.

Tanzania’s Natural Resources assistant minister Ezekiel Maige said last week that the government had commissioned an environmental impact study and that no decision had yet been taken.

If Tanzania goes ahead with the plan, the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem will be greatly affected, as the wildebeests will be blocked from going into the Mara and back into Serengeti in search of pasture.

The 14,763-square kilometre Serengeti is key to Tanzania’s tourism, which is one of the East African country’s main foreign exchange earners.

Peak time

The report of the planned construction is likely to shake Kenya’s tourism industry as it will disrupt the peak time of the spectacle – a wonder of the world – when hundreds of tourists flock in to witness the crossing of the wildebeests into the Mara.

Between July and October, wildebeest migrate to the Mara from Tanzania to graze. The mass of over two million wildebeest covers the savannah grasslands as far as the eye can see.

In October, as the short rains begin to fall in the south and east of Serengeti, the herds start to leave the Mara, crossing the Mara River again to go back to Tanzania.