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  1. #1
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    Default Serengeti migration under threat

    This is my column for the Cape Times this Friday past.

    IT WAS back in 1959 that a little known German naturalist sat in the African bush and wrote “Men are easily inspired by human ideas, but they forget them again just as quickly. Only Nature is eternal, unless we senselessly destroy it. In 50 years time, nobody will be interested in the results of the conferences which fill today’s headlines.
    “But when, 50 years from now, a lion walks into the red dawn and roars resoundingly, it will mean something to people and quicken their hearts, whether they are bolshevists or democrats, or whether they speak English, German, Russian or Swahili. They will stand in quiet awe as, for the first time in their lives, they watch twenty thousand zebras wander across the enless plains.”
    Bernhard Grzimek wrote those words 51 years ago in the last few pages of his and his son Michael’s seminal work, Serengeti Shall Not Die. Their book, and their film of the same name, forever engraved the name Serengeti in the world’s consciousness as one of the great wilderness areas of Africa, and the annual wildebeest and zebra migration as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, wildlife show on earth.
    The greater Serengeti-Ngorongoro Complex takes in Lake Natron, a spectacular expanse of soda ash always tinged pink by the combination of soda and vast flocks of flamingos, with a rugged escarpment rising to 2 043m straight from the lake bed. It was here that Bernhard and Michael nearly died on January 9, 1959.
    They had landed their single-engined Fieseler Stork on the salt flats with the intention of filming nesting flamingos. In the middle of the night, a ferocious storm struck. As lightning slammed into the ground all about them, gusts of hurricane strength wind threatened to flip their ‘plane onto its back. The waters were rising and with the salt crust becoming ever more waterlogged, the ‘plane began to sink.
    At the height of the storm, Michael fell asleep. “I felt like placing one of his cool hands on my knee and covering it with my own. This might have woken him up, however, and in any case men are not expected to stroke their children’s hands, only mothers do that.”
    They escaped, just, and the next morning, flew back to their base in the Ngorongoro Crater. That afternoon, Michael flew off to track animals. He collided with a griffon vulture, and plunged to his death. He is buried on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, under a simple memorial with a plaque that reads
    Michael Grzimek
    12.4.1934 -10.1.1959
    He gave all he possessed for the wild animals of Africa, including his life.
    I have stood at his memorial, looking out over the caldera, and I have followed the great migration from Ngorongoro, through Olduvai, across the great plains of the Serengeti, out into the Grumeti and Ikorongo conservation areas, north into Kenya’s Maasai Mara. It is a sight once witnessed, never forgotten, a vast, heaving mass of animals constantly on the move, here one moment, gone the next.
    The Serengeti National Park and adjoining conservation areas are more of a map construct, than a defined “game reserve” - there are no fences, and the wildlife moves at will, following the sweet grass and the rains. The real challenge of the Serengeti complex are the back tracks. There is a route that heads north from Mto wa Mbu (“Mosquito Creek”) to the Salei Plains, Angata Kiti, Nasera Rock and the Gol Mountains to Loliondo, and another via Lake Natron to Loliondo and the Gol Mountains. It’s a remote and wild area, with wildlife aplenty, and with the occasional Maasai manyatta dotted across the landscape.
    This is the route that the Tanzanian government wants to turn into a tar highway linking eastern Tanzania with Lake Victoria, a route that will slash right across the great migration route of the Serengeti. The 480km highway from Mto wa Mbu to Musoma on the shores of the lake will cost $480million dollars, a neat $1million per kilometre.
    According to the EastAfrican newspaper, “Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Shamsa Mwangunga (said) ... ‘The project will not interfere with the Serengeti eco-system and the spectacular annual wildlife migration as green activists claim ... She said the road was a major pledge made to Lake Victoria voters, and the government was obliged to fulfil the Chama cha Mapinduzi 2005 general election manifesto, which brought President Jakaya Kikwete into power.” (It is probably also no coincidence that several international mining companies want to mine Lake Natron for its soda ash.)
    Professor Anthony Sinclair of the University of British Columbia has studied the Serengeti for the past 40 years, and is regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on its ecosystem. He is quoted on www.savetheserengeti.org as saying: “The Serengeti Ecosystem has been studied for 50 years and is well documented. These studies show that the whole system depends on the impacts of this massive migration, so that the ecosystem itself will change completely when the migration disappears. Essentially the Serengeti as we know it will no longer exist. History has shown that once we start this process of road development, there is no turning back on the sequence.”
    This is one of the biggest threats I have ever come across to the African wilderness, and we owe it to the memory of Michael Grzimek to fight this abomination.

  2. #2
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    Tony, any suggestions as to what the ordinary person in the street can do to avoid this disaster? The Serengeti together with the migaration is on my bucketlist for somewhere in the future. No it seems that I can just as well scap this wish.
    "If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost"

  3. #3
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    For now i think we can sign the petition @

    http://www.savetheserengeti.org/

    and forward it to as many people to get more awareness on this stupendous attempt!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by TNF View Post
    For now i think we can sign the petition @
    http://www.savetheserengeti.org/
    and forward it to as many people to get more awareness on this stupendous attempt!!!

    Agreed - go the petition route for now. A number of very big guns internationally are mobilising around this. I suspect it may be a red herring to try and get World Bank funding for a more environmentally acceptable route from Arusha south, skirting Tarangire, via Mwanza to Musoma.

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    there was a bit of a thread on this not so long ago if I'm not mistaken?

    I seem to recall there is an alternative route to the south of the migration routes which is only fractionally longer and already has some roads (tarred) in place?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Weaver View Post
    Agreed - go the petition route for now. A number of very big guns internationally are mobilising around this. I suspect it may be a red herring to try and get World Bank funding for a more environmentally acceptable route from Arusha south, skirting Tarangire, via Mwanza to Musoma.
    I think you've spotted the plan perfectly there Tony!!!

    In fact, from what I can see on the map, joining the 2 existing roads to the south seems to be a shorter and probably better option....

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    In fact - even the alternative proposed route seems to be not ideal? don't know about mountains and stuff in the way but surely just joining the 2 existing roads with infrastructure and towns etc already there would be way more sensible?
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    done
    Gerhard.
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    Now can I just say that there is MASSIVE road construction happening around Mwanza and to the west of there and nothing around the area described above. Perhaps they are making another plan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by freeflyd View Post
    Now can I just say that there is MASSIVE road construction happening around Mwanza and to the west of there and nothing around the area described above. Perhaps they are making another plan.
    Latest is that the Kenyan government has lodged an official protest against the road, so let's see what develops. The alternative route that has been proposed by the African Wilderness Foundation is from Mwanza south east via Shinyanga and then linking with Arusha Dodoma road just west of Tarangire. Dawie, I presume you mean the roadworks are EAST of Mwanza - west is in the lake, or on the Sengerema to Geita route.

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    Both ways really. There is a ferry (Dar harbour style) that crosses the lake south of Mwanza between Kikongo and Busisi. T4A marks it as a dirt track. we drove on a brand new taer road for some of the way and a 40m wide graded surface being prepared for tarring the rest of the way.

    It's being built by Chinese prisoners who don't get salaries and the project manager was a German guy the size of a house!

  12. #12
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    Default good news

    <dl><dt>When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained (Mark Twain)
    </dt></dl>

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    "In what is a victory for environmentalists, scientists, tourism, and the largest land migration on Earth, the Tanzanian government has cancelled a road that would have cut through the northern portion of the Serengeti National Park."

    Now THAT is good news!

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    Good news .

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    As I've said elsewhere....I was never too worried about this one. This was just a bit of electioneering. There were just too many people against it; powerful people who hold Tanzania's purse-strings, including the IMF, the World Bank, the EU and individual donor countries. Kenya, the neighbourhoods biggest economy, was also against it. I believe that they have used the threat of this road to get the German's to volunteer to build them an alternative route.

    Mike
    "A poxy, feral, Brit architect who drinks bad beer and supports the wrong rugby team." Tony Weaver

    "Mike for President" Freeflyd

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    By whatever means, I appreciate the decision. If they even get for free what they were supposed to create themselves look like an act of genius.

    Appreciated, now my bucket list is standing...!
    Walter Rene Gygax
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    Good news indeed.

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    Not such good news: The New York Times has weighed in on the issue with this editorial in today's paper:

    A Gravel Road Too Far

    It would be nice to be able to praise the Tanzanian government and President Jakaya Kikwete for dropping plans to build a road across the northern section of Serengeti National Park. The road, about 32 miles long, would have cut across one of the planet’s major migratory corridors — used by great herds of wildebeest and other animals — and one of the last of its kind on the planet.
    Unfortunately, the letter announcing Tanzania’s change in plans is too ambiguous to celebrate, and it leaves the ultimate fate of Serengeti unresolved.
    Tanzania now proposes to build roads right up to the edge of Serengeti. The letter, from the minister for natural resources and tourism to Unesco’s World Heritage Center, then announces that the controversial route across the park “will remain gravel road” and be managed by the Tanzanian national parks system. But such a gravel road does not now exist, since much of this section of the park is maintained as wilderness.
    By conceding its hopes for an asphalt road across Serengeti, Tanzania gets a gravel road by sleight of hand. In fact, it was a plan for a gravel road across the park that caused worldwide protest last year.
    Serengeti lies directly on a route from Uganda to a Tanzanian port called Tanga, on the Indian Ocean. The pressure to develop this route is intense, thanks largely to mining and other extractive industries in Uganda. Tanzania has a right, of course, to pursue its economic future. A major part of its economic present is revenue from tourism, mostly related to Serengeti. It is time for the Tanzanian government to do the right thing, economically and environmentally, and declare its unequivocal commitment to protect Serengeti’s integrity.
    Tony Weaver
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  19. #19
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    What to do....?
    can we not organize some "Serengeti Support Group" type of lobbying with the aim to show determination for tourist based development rather than mining high ways.

    Not sure of how to start this up but with enough publicity there could be a certain pressure on the government ...?

    Any ideas?
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kalahari Safari View Post
    What to do....?
    can we not organize some "Serengeti Support Group" type of lobbying with the aim to show determination for tourist based development rather than mining high ways.
    Not sure of how to start this up but with enough publicity there could be a certain pressure on the government ...?
    Any ideas?
    Hi Walter,

    As I said in an earlier post, there is very high level work going on this - Unesco, Kenyan government, AWF, WWF etc etc, and now the New York Times has weighed in, hell, that's almost as big as the Cape Times expressing its disapproval! Smaller efforts are always good, but I suspect this is one of those ones that is just too big for the Tanzanian government to get away with it.

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