Are Serengeti highway proponents practicing “Shoot, shovel, & shut up”?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2011:
Dar es Salaam–“Shoot, shovel, and shut
up,” the creed of ranchers and land developers
opposed to the U.S. Endangered Species Act, may
have reached Tanzania. But nobody knows for sure.
What is known is that a confidential
government Environmental & Social Impact
Assessment Draft Report on a proposed highway
that would bisect Serengeti National Park in
October 2010 identified the May 2010
reintroduction of five black rhinos to Serengeti
as a potential obstacle.
On December 10, 2010 one of the five
rhinos was poached. Three suspects were
reportedly held for questioning, but under the
authoritarian regime of Tanzanian present Jakaya
Kikwete, whose party has ruled since 1961,
wildlife criminals and law enforcement have been
at times difficult to tell apart.
In addition, summarized Sven Torfinn of
The New York Times, “Kikwete’s party has been
widely accused of siphoning millions of dollars
out of the treasury by awarding contracts to
ghost companies.” Causing problematic rhino to
disappear would be a comparatively simple matter.
In early February 2011 the 600-page
report from the United Republic of Tanzania
Ministry of Infrastructure Development Tanzania
National Roads Agency (TANROADS) was leaked to
the anti-Serengeti highway organization Serengeti
Watch and posted to the Serengeti Watch web site.
The possible effects of the proposed highway on
rhinos were only one of the many issues that the
TANROADS report warned about.
There is of course nothing unusual about
rhino poaching in Africa: 232 rhinos were
poached in South Africa in 2010, and 22 in
Zimbabwe. But the five rhinos who were flown to
Serengeti from South Africa in May 2010 were
supposed to have been closely guarded within a
fenced habitat. They were the first of 32
descendants of Tanzanian rhinos who are to be
returned to Tanzania to try to rebuild the
Between 500 and 700 rhinos occupied the
Serengeti/Mara ecosystem in northern Tanzania and
southern Kenya circa 1970, constituting the east
African Diceros bicornis michaeli subspecies.
Five of the Serengeti rhinos were sold to South
Africa during the 1980s. While the
Serengeti-Mara population was poached out of
existence, those sent to South Africa produced 61
The TANROADS study authors also examined
topics including the chances that the road might
increase the incidence of HIV infection in the
region, might bring invasive plant species into
the region, and might lead to more use of child
labor if adult men are drawn away from farming to
help build the road.
But the biggest concern, worldwide, is
the potential impact of the Serengeti highway on
wildlife. “The [wildebeest] migration may be
limited by the high level of traffic,” TANROADS
acknowledged in the report’s executive summary.
The highway “is expected to have 800 vehicles per
day in 2015,” TANROADS said, “rising to 3,000
vehicles per day by 2035. This is a major
concern that has caused a lot of publicityŠIt is
argued that only the wildebeest will be affected,
but the animals who prey on them will also be
affected if the migration is disrupted.
“There has been a recent reintroduction
of rhinos in the project area,” TANROADS
continued. “These sensitive animals will be
subject to traffic and poachingŠThe black rhino
and wild dog have conservation strategies that
may be hindered by the construction and
operation…The shy oribi is also found in the
eastern corridor. This antelope would be
disturbed by the increased traffic.”
John Fryxell, a biology professor at the
University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, in a
recent study estimated that the effects of
building the Serengeti hughway could cut the
migrating wildebeest herd by 35%: more than half
a million animals.
“The Serengeti is a jewel of our nation
as well as for the international community. We
will do nothing to hurt the Serengeti and we
would like the international community to know
this,” Kikwete on February 10, 2011 told Agence
France-Presse, reiterating promises often made
during the past six months that the Serengeti
road will not be paved.
“No tarmac road will be built through the
Serengeti,” Kikwere insisted.
Responded Serengeti Watch cofounder Dave
Blanton to Canadian Press, “I think common sense
would say with that volume of traffic there is no
way you could have a dirt road. Paving and
fencing is the future.”
“The World Bank has offered to help fund
an alternative route, according to the
German-based Nature & Biodiversity Conserv-ation
Union,” reported Jeremy Hance of the science web
news periodical Mongabay.com in January 2011.
Tanzania was a German colony from 1885 to 1946.
Founded in 1899, the Nature & Biodiversity
Conservation Union has had involvement in
Tanzania from inception.
The Kenya-based African Network for
Animal Welfare in December 2010 filed suit
against the Serengeti road project in the East
African Court of Justice, a month after the
United Nations Educational, Scientific &
Cultural Organization came out against the
project. The UNESCO position was supported by
the World Wildlife Fund, International Union for
Conservation of Nature, and the World Commission
on Protected Areas.