~ A major highway, an international airport, power struggles, development, and human welfare issues – critical challenges now threaten the very fabric and survival of the Serengeti National Park as we know it. Never before in its history has the world’s greatest wildlife heritage faced such an uncertain future. ~
On June 21, 2010, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) signed an urgent petition initiated by Save the Serengeti, a coalition of organizations that share a concern over the future of the Serengeti National Park.
“Our sacred responsibility to the young and unborn generations of mankind is to jealously protect Mother Earth and all life on it.” Maasai elder
“This threat to the Serengeti, a major commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park, is of great concern to us and many of our members,” said Shannon Stowell, ATTA President. “We’re hoping for an alternative plan that can still serve commercial needs but recognizes that this is an irreversible and destructive change to one of the world’s most valuable wildlife destinations.”
The ATTA urges all its members and subscribers of AdventureTravelNews™ to back the petition – on behalf of the tourism industry – which offers counsel to the Tanzanian government to reconsider the routing of a currently proposed highway, which poses a threat to what New York Times blogger Olivia Judson refers to as, “..the last great migration on Earth…”.
- Save the Serengeti’s petition is available here. (SaveTheSerengeti.org also contains many must-read articles which provider further context to the story, plus sources of additional information by organizations long-involved in protecting the Serengeti)
Bare in mind, that when researching and considering your individual or organizational stance on the conflict, “One thing I think we need to emphasize — this is not animals vs. people,” explains Dave Blanton, founder of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association who has traveled in East Africa for 40 years and lived there for seven and first alerted to the ATTA to the conflict. “The organization favors an alternate route that better promotes economic development while preserving Tanzania’s greatest natural treasure.”
- Timing Critical: several sites indicate that reports from the field convey that pink ribbons have already been placed, demarcating where the road is expected to be constructed.
And, in very practical terms, Save the Serengeti, along with the ATTA, support Tanzania’s own proclamations and positioning on nature and conservation, beginning with its very first president, Julius Nyerer, who in 1961 introduced what became known as the “Arusha Manifesto” which is proudly displayed on the country’s National Parks site at www.TanzaniaParks.com:
“The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration but are an integral part of our natural resources and our future livelihood and well being.
In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grand-children will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance.
The conservation of wildlife and wild places calls for specialist knowledge, trained manpower, and money, and we look to other nations to co-operate with us in this important task – the success or failure of which not only affects the continent of Africa but the rest of the world as well.”
In fact, the Tanzanian government itself continues at the same nation-sponsored site:
“The Legal Mandate of Tanzania National Parks is:
To manage and regulate the use of areas designated as National Parks by such means and measures to preserve the country’s heritage, encompassing natural and cultural resources, both tangible and intangible resource values, including the fauna and flora, wildlife habitat, natural processes, wilderness quality and scenery therein and to provide for human benefit and enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations.
The Purpose of Tanzania National Parks is:
- Areas possessing exceptional value or quality illustrating the natural or cultural resources of Tanzania’s heritage
- Areas with outstanding examples of a particular type of resource
- Water and soil resources critical to maintain ecological integrity and which support the subsistence needs of people outside park boundaries
- Areas that offer superlative opportunities for public benefit, enjoyment or scientific study.
- National Parks retain a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate and unspoiled example of a resource
- Management Plans for parks are developed by interdisciplinary teams comprised of appropriate professionals with the best available information to achieve a balance between preservation and use that does not adversely impact park resources and values
- A quality visitor experience, rather than emphasizing “mass-tourism” at the expense of park resources and values
- Optimum levels of revenue and benefits accrue to the national economy, the parks and communities without impairing park resources.”
Its own mandate appears to be one of the most sound and cogent arguments against the proposed highway.
Hard economic issues also are clearly understood by the opposition – and, bordering Kenya which also has a vested interest in protecting migration patterns to also preserve its tourism industry, which is why the petition refers to the very real economics of the conflict. Arguments opposing the current route appear sound and offer viable alternatives that preserve the wilderness area in question, offer reasonable routes to help preserve local economies, and still preserves the tourism industry there for the long haul should Tanzania see fit to hold true to its first president’s vision. Again, from the Tanzania National Park site:
“The Tanganyika National Parks Ordinance CAP  of 1959 established the organization now known as Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), and Serengeti became the first National Park. Conservation in Tanzania is governed by the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1974, which allows the Government to establish protected areas and outlines how these are to be organized and managed. National Parks represent the highest level of resource protection that can be provided. By February 2008, Tanapa had grown to 15 national parks, with plans to add 1 more in the near future, as well as to expand existing parks. Conservation of eco-systems in all areas designated as national parks is the core business of the organisation.
Nature-based or wildlife tourism is the main source of income that is ploughed back for management, regulation, and fulfilment of all organisational mandates in the national parks.”
According to Save the Serengeti: Both the African Wildlife Foundation and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) favor a southern route. As the FZS has pointed out — a proposed alternate southern route serves more than five times as many people (2,278,000 people vs. 431,000 in the north). The southern highway passes through important agricultural areas in Tanzania, the northern road does not. The southern highway would provide a major opportunity to increase agricultural output and distribution across the whole region. As for cost, the amount of new tarmac of the northern route through the Serengeti is 261 miles. The alternate southern route would be 237 miles.
When queried by the ATTA about the petition and its approach, Blanton commented, “For one thing, the economic argument to the government is powerful. For another, it’s something the travel industry needs to be aware of and support. Although this is the most egregious we’ve seen, other such issues will only get more frequent.”
As dire as it may seem, Blanton’s lamentation is likely to become reality. Increasingly, in fact, the ATTA is made aware of pressing tourism industry issues and conflicts by its partners and members and/or through its own means. Some require immediate action and/or awareness building throughout the adventure travel community. Mostly recently, the Yale University vs. Peru challenge comes to mind, as reported June 15, 2010 in AdventureTravelNews™, which exposes an ethical challenge more an more nations are calling out. Share similarly compelling conflicts of global interest and impact by leaving a comment in the Comments box below this article.
Some of the latest perspectives (as of June 25, 2010) from ATTA Members, Keyna Tourist Board, KATO (Kenyan Association of Tour Operators) and entrepreneurs in the region are provided below.
Please note that on June 22, 2010, the ATTA queried nearly 50 entrepreneurs in Tanzania for responses and/or positions on the matter, with a special note that both sides of the issue would be presented fairly. Only one response was received by this reporter by the stated deadline – Gibbs Farm, Tanzania. Reports from on the ground in Tanzania indicate a high degree of concern by businesses in Tanzania who fear publicly opposing the proposed highway might result in severe reprisals from the Tanzanian government. This situation may have contributed to the lack of response to queries for statements from the field.
Additionally, this reporter queried two Tanzania National Park representatives for comment on the situation, also on June 22, 2010, with a deadline of June 24, 2010. As of June 25, 2010, no reply was received.
Statement from the Chairman, Kenya Tourist Board on the Proposed Serengeti Highway
Members of the tourism fraternity in Kenya have expressed their concern regarding the news that a new highway may be constructed straight through the Serengeti National Reserve in Tanzania. It is feared that if a major public highway cuts through the Serengeti then this could disrupt the spectacular annual wildebeest migration which moves between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya. It is recognised that the Tanzanian government is committed to the provision of an improved road network for its citizens and that the proposed highway will link the towns of Arusha and Musoma. However in view of the importance of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem as one of the world’s premier wildlife reserves and as a major contributor to the economies of both Tanzania and Kenya, it is hoped that the authorities in Tanzania will consider an alternative route passing around the outside of the Serengeti which will also link more towns and villages than a highway through a national reserve in which there is no human settlement.
Jake Grieves-Cook, Chairman, Kenya Tourist Board
“The African tourism industry has done an outstanding job of working very hard to develop safari products that are ‘low impact’, responsibly bringing travelers into fragile ecosystems, such as Tanzania’s Serengeti,” explains Sarah Fazendin, President, The Fazendin Portfolio, LLC. “We are hopeful that the Tanzanian government will acknowledge this precedent set by the tourism industry in preserving this wilderness treasure while remaining true to the very words of the country’s first president which are worth repeating, ‘These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration but are an integral part of our natural resources and our future livelihood and well being.”’ The Tanzania National Parks Authority, TANAPA, has made great strides in protecting the National Parks over the years and a major development such as a road would appear to directly contradict this Government protection. The Tanzanian government needs to carefully consider the implications of the proposed Serengeti Highway, as the northern option will not only seriously harm the wildlife and the wilderness of this area but will have major financial implications in terms of harm to the safari industry and the plethora of related businesses which generate a huge portion of Tanzania’s foreign exchange.”
“In times like these, when powerful interests threaten to destroy the natural balance and cultural patrimony of the vast Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, our industry must organize, take time out of our busy day to express our views and take a stand, especially when our counterparts within Tanzania cannot,” said Wildland Adventures President Kurt Kutay. “This includes giving back some of what we have earned over the years on African safaris to help save this resource. If not for our own future, but out of a moral obligation on behalf of our Mother Earth including all the wild animals and native peoples who have co-existed and thrived in this Eden for millennia.”
The African Wildlife Foundation recently came out with an official statement on the matter, which includes some sensible constructive alternatives: Visit www.awf.org or www.awf.org/documents/Serengeti_Road_Statement.
“I am aware of this proposal and find it alarming,” said Dale Jensen, Director, Marketing and Sales of Gibb’s Farm, Tanzania. “I lived in the Ngorongoro highlands for eight years. This will be the final nail in the coffin for keeping our wild places wild. Undoubtedly there are some who will profit from it. We have to go to the financiers and stop it there. If the financiers (donor countries) simply will not finance a road through the northern Serengeti, then it will be effectively be stopped. So, get the rich donor countries to basically say they will finance the alternate route, but not this one.”
Fascinating, the influence of good “old fashioned” email networking, combined with the continued awareness building and mobilizing strength of social media, to call attention to issues of global concern – this time, a direct threat to the Serengeti.
On June 15, 2010, both Dave Blanton* (see biography below) and Boyd Norton* (see biography below), contacted Kurt Kutay, president of Wildland Adventures and Advisory Board Member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), who then contacted the ATTA team about the present threat to Tanzania’s Serengeti. Within 24 hours, the ATTA engaged in background research to better understand the issue, and, based on the current understanding of the conflict, the government’s own proclamations, voices from the region, members and other institutions, we have since joined the Save the Serengeti campaign to petition the Tanzanian government. Further, we intend to publish information about the challenge in AdventureTravelNews, The HUB (The ATTA’s online community for its Members), and in its consumer portal to adventure, www.Adventure.Travel. Already, Twitter and Facebook notices have been posted.
For those so inclined, we urge you to join the effort.
*David Blanton Biography:
David Blanton has been traveling to East Africa for the past forty years and lived there for seven years. He was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Uganda, and lived in Kenya for five years, where he developed a cross-cultural training program for the African travel industry. For twenty years, he was the owner Voyagers International, a well-known nature and photo tour company in the US. David founded the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (www.igtoa.org) that helps raise funds for conservation and promotes responsible travel. He is currently working with IGTOA on fund raising and lobbying.
*Boyd Norton Biography:
Boyd Norton is a well known photographer, author of fourteen books, and a longtime champion of wilderness areas. A veteran African traveler, he has served on the Board of Trustees for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. He is currently a director of Baikal Watch, dedicated to preserving Lake Baikal and other wilderness areas in Siberia. He was instrumental in the recent successful campaign to stop an oil pipeline near Lake Baikal. Two new books will be published in 2010, one on the Serengeti.