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How do tourists view the Serengeti?

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’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.

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Serengeti road project opposed by ‘powerful’ tour company lobby

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