Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, an immense expanse of East African savanna, is a world famous tourist destination because of its plentiful megafauna, particularly the great migrating herds of wildebeest. Yet despite huge visitor numbers and the annual revenue of millions of US dollars, local poverty and increasing population continue to imperil the reserve. A new study in mongabay.com’s open-access journal
Tropical Conservation Science found that while tourists to the Serengeti overall report a high degree of satisfaction with their trip, they are concerned about the future of the ecosystem.
“In East Africa tourism contributes to national budgets as well as to the management of protected areas sometimes leading to perception that parks cannot survive without tourism. Tourism revenues allow for recruitment of staff, good infrastructure and multiple management operations. Revenues also protect habitats and species indirectly in the instances where the welfare of local communities is improved, thereby counteracting incentives to pursue the economic choices that are ecologically destructive,” write the authors.
Around 150,000-200,000 people visit the Serengeti each year, usually to see the wildlife. In fact, interviewing 350 visitors from around the world, the study found that 80 percent listed wildlife in general and big carnivores in particular as ‘very important’ reason behind their visits. Over 90 percent of respondents also agreed with the statements that the Serengeti is unique in the world and one of the best places to see wildlife globally.
According to the study, tourists by and large were very happy with their trip: “about 76 percent of the respondents were very satisfied with the wildlife, 67.1 percent were very satisfied with the natural environment, and 73.5 percent were very satisfied with the tour guides.”
Most visitors wanted to see conservation in the park remain ultimately what it is today: 70 percent felt that there should not be more facilities made for tourists to prevent overcrowding and, again 70 percent, agreed that some areas should be off-limits to tourists. In addition, nearly three-quarters said they would not visit the park if wildlife populations declined by 50 percent, while 84 percent said they would not return if tourist numbers doubled.
“[Tourists] do not perceive much environmental impact from their own level of activity, but they are concerned about future changes,” write the authors.
Finally, just over half said they would not return if more roads are added to the Serengeti. The Serengeti road issue has been a hot topic in Tanzania and beyond, as the Tanzanian government was planning to build a commercial thoroughfare through the northern part of the park even though scientists and conservationists said, over time, it would end the great Serengeti migration. Tanzania has since shelved the major road plans, but NGOs warn the government may still build a gravel road through the wilderness area, opening the door to a major highway in the future.
Although worried about the Serengeti’s future, the study finds that most tourists are probably unaware of the challenges facing the park, especially rising population along the park’s perimeter with many facing deep poverty.
“The most radical change during the history of the park is the increase in population pressure from the surrounding communities. Currently over 2 million people live around the perimeter of the park […] Apparently, the Park attracts people from a range of regions, and they settle on the borders of the park in hope of obtaining better living conditions,” write the authors. “Yet, resources and social services are limited and poverty is widespread. The high level of poaching and numerous conflicts over grazing areas and water is driven by the population increase in the areas adjacent to the park. All these factors affect the Serengeti environment, and they pose formidable management challenges.”
CITATION: Kaltenborn, B. P., Nyahongo, J. W, and Kideghesho, J. R. The attitudes of tourists towards the environmental, social and managerial attributes of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Vol.4 (2):132-148, 2011.
(06/23/2011) In what is a victory for environmentalists, scientists, tourism, and the largest land migration on Earth, the Tanzanian government has cancelled a commercial road that would have cut through the northern portion of the Serengeti National Park. According to scientists the road would have severed the migration route of 1.5 million wildebeest and a half million other antelope and zebra, in turn impacting the entire ecosystem of the Serengeti plains.
(04/14/2011) What’s happening in Tanzania? This is a question making the rounds in conservation and environmental circles. Why is a nation that has so much invested in its wild lands and wild animals willing to pursue projects that appear destined not only to wreak havoc on the East African nation’s world-famous wildlife and ecosystems, but to cripple its economically-important tourism industry? The most well known example is the proposed road bisecting Serengeti National Park, which scientists, conservationists, the UN, and foreign governments alike have condemned. But there are other concerns among conservationists, including the fast-tracking of soda ash mining in East Africa’s most important breeding ground for millions of lesser flamingo, and the recent announcement to nullify an application for UNESCO Heritage Status for a portion of Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains, a threatened forest rich in species found no-where else. According to President Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania is simply trying to provide for its poorest citizens (such as communities near the Serengeti and the Eastern Arc Mountains) while pursuing western-style industrial development.
(03/16/2011) Government plans to build a road through Serengeti National Park came up against more opposition this week as the Tanzanian Association of Tour Operators (Tato) came out against the project, reports The Citizen. Tato, described as powerful local lobby group by the Tanzanian media, stated that the road would hurt tourism and urged the government to select a proposed alternative route that would by-pass the park. Tato’s opposition may signal a shift to more local criticism of the road as opposition against the project has come mostly from international environmentalists, scientists, and governments.