Scientists: road through Serengeti would likely end wildebeest migration

Jeremy Hance
February 02, 2011

A new study finds that a proposed road cutting through Serengeti National Park would likely have devastating consequences for one of the world's last great migrations. According to the study the road itself could lead to a 35% loss in the famed park's migrating wildebeest herd, essentially cutting the herd down by over half a million animals. Despite such concerns, and the availability of an alternative route that would bypass the Serengeti plains altogether, the Tanzanian government has stated it is going ahead with the controversial road.

"This project has the potential to transform one of the greatest wonders in the world and one of the world's most iconic national parks," said John Fryxell, an integrative biology professor at the University of Guelph and author on the study, in a press release.

The study, published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, looked solely at the direct consequence of the road, i.e. fragmenting the wildebeest's habitat. While the authors state that the road itself may not stop the migration, "there are reasons to believe, however, that as road traffic increases, fences and development might follow, eventually rendering a simple road project into a de facto barrier."

The outcome may even be worse than the study predicts, as it does consider other possible impacts on the herd, including vehicle collisions with the animals, increased illegal hunting, and more development within the park. But the road won't just impact the wildebeest.

"The wildebeest migration plays an important role in a number of key ecological processes, so this finding has important ramifications for ecosystem biodiversity, structure and function," Fryxell said. For example, with less prey available big cat populations, already on the decline, are likely to suffer.

Recently it has been reported that the World Bank has proposed to help fund the alternative route to save the park from being cut. Yet the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, insists the original plan for the road will go ahead.

Wildebeest herd in Tanzania. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

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Scientists: road through Serengeti would likely end wildebeest migration .