On June 20, 2014, The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) announced that it would effectively prevent the Tanzanian Government from constructing a highway through the Serengeti National Park, a 5700 square-mile World Heritage Site. The African Network for Animal Care (ANAW) won the case against the Tanzanian government, which had plans to construct an asphalt highway through the park to foster socio-economic growth for the 1.2 million people living in the area.
The construction plans were drawn to fulfill a promise made by President Jakaya Kikwete during his last presidential campaign, with the goal of connecting developing communities in the Northwest with the rest of Tanzania. The proposed road would be over 33 miles long, cutting directly through the park; currently, the only road in Serengeti runs below the park’s southern boundary. The road would also include a 164-foot “buffer” zone on either side. The entire space road would no longer be considered park land, so commercial traffic—including large trucks—could utilize it freely.
The Serengeti—meaning “endless plains” in the Massai language—is as famous for its annual migration as it is for its breathtaking scenery, drawing 90,000 tourists anually. For ANAW, fighting construction of the road meant protecting both the animals and tourism, which is crucial to Tanzania’s economy. Each year, during the “dry season,” millions of animals migrate circularly through the Serengeti and into the Massai Mara Reserve in Kenya in search of grass and water. Construction in their natural habitat could potentially alter or even halt migration, which is vital to the survival of millions of the animals. Additionally, a major commercial road would decrease the Serengeti’s scenic value for which thousands of people travel to witness each year, contradicting the government’s plans to boost economy in the area.
ANAW’s case continued to cite that not only would construction disrupt the park’s scenic quality and the natural habitat of millions of animals, but it would also pose serious threats to both humans and animals in the area. Increased vehicular traffic could increase the number of traffic-related or roadside animal and human fatalities. Increased traffic also poses serious risks to Serengeti’s ecosystem, increasing air, water, and soil pollution. ANAW’s bottom line: high-impact development could have had severe, damaging effects on the animals and people who call Serengeti home, which isn’t worth it.
Though the government worked to ensure that adequate measures would be taken to prevent harmful or negative consequences tied to the construction, plans have been canceled as of now. Ultimately, environmental protection, sustainable development and the protection of natural resources remained the top issues that influenced the judges at the EAJC. The road—which has sparked debate for several years now—is an issue that is sure to surface again in the future. But, for now, the circle of life will continue as it always has in the Serengeti for humans and animals alike.
– Elizabeth Nutt