Environmental Impacts of the Serengeti Highway

Evidence from other parts of the world, combined with our deep understanding of the Serengeti ecosystem, makes this clear:  A world treasure will be seriously threatened. The Serengeti, once gone, will never come back.

Scientists have predicted the following negative impacts:

  • Fragmentation of habitat for wildlife
  • Disruption and obstruction of migration routes
  • Introduction of invasive plants, animals, and disease
  • Increased mortality due to wildlife-vehicle collisions
  • Intensive, organized poaching, especially of reintroduced rhino
  • Loss of habitat from human settlement and agriculture
  • Increased human-wildlife conflicts requiring additional measures

Tony Sinclair, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Serengeti, has said:

“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.” 1

The proposed road cuts through a critical wilderness area that is essential to the migration. The migration itself could collapse, with a devastating effect on all wildlife and the entire ecosystem.

Experts at the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the principal supporter of the Serengeti for the past 50 years, state in their report:

“We sincerely believe that the road will have disastrous effects on the entire ecosystem. The northern parts of the Serengeti and the adjacent Masai Mara are critical for the wildebeest and zebra migration during the dry season, as it is the only permanent year-round water source for these herds. Recent calculations show that if wildebeest were to be cut off from these critical dry season areas, the population would likely decline from 1.3 million animals to about 200,000 (meaning a collapse to far less than a quarter of its current population and most likely the end of the great migration).” 2

Andrew Dobson, conservation biologist at Princeton, has said:

“If the wildebeest population declines by even fifty percent it could lead to an increase in the fire frequency in the park, as less grass would be eaten – this could flip the entire system from a major carbon sink into a major source of carbon.” 3

An alternative exists, and we must convince authorities to adopt it.Click here to read more on the alternate route.



1.  “Road proposal threatens existence of Serengeti”
Professor Anthony R.E. Sinclair and Dr. Rene Beyers
Serengeti Biodiversity Program, Beatty Biodiversity Centre
University of British Columbia

2. “The Proposed Serengeti Commercial Road
The Frankfurt Zoological Society

3. Ecologist. Andrew Dobson, Professor of Conservation Biology and Infectious Disease Ecology at Princeton University

More information and studies

The impacts of roads and other infrastructure on mammal and bird populations:A meta-analysis Benitez_lopez et al_Roads_2010

The following is from: Olivia Judson, Opinionator, The New York Times

For a general overview of different ways that roads impact wildlife, including a discussion of the spread of invasive plants and pathogens, and the increased risk of poaching, see Trombulak S. C. and Frissell, C. A. 2000. “Review of ecological effects of roads on terrestrial and aquatic communities.” Conservation Biology 14: 18-30. For the overwhelmingly negative effect that roads have on wildlife, see Fahrig, L. and Rytwinski, T. 2009. “Effects of roads on animal abundance: an empirical review and synthesis.” Ecology and Society 14 (1): article 21. For the general problem of animal diseases being spread by animal transportation, see Fèvre, E. M. et al. 2006. “Animal movements and the spread of infectious diseases.” Trends in Microbiology 14: 125-131. For the general problem of animals and road deaths, see Groot Bruinderink, G. W. T. A. and Hazebroek, E. 1996. “Ungulate traffic collisions in Europe.” Conservation Biology 10: 1059-1067.

For efforts to mitigate the effects of roads by means of animal underpasses and overpasses see, for example, Clevenger, A. P. and Waltho, N. 2000. “Factors influencing the effectiveness of wildlife underpasses in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.” Conservation Biology 14: 47-56; and van der Ree, R. et al. 2009. “Wildlife tunnel enhances population viability.” Ecology and Society 14 (2): article 7. The fact that wildebeest avoid areas frequented by poachers was communicated to me in an email from Grant Hopcraft; the data are being prepared for publication.

For the myriad ways that wildebeest define and shape the Serengeti, see Sinclair, A. R. E. and Arcese, P. (editors) 1995. “Serengeti II: Dynamics, Management, and Conservation of an Ecosystem.” University of Chicago Press. For wildebeest population sizes being dependent on the migration and for their role in promoting species diversity see, for example, Sinclair, A. R. E. 2003. “Mammal population regulation, keystone processes and ecosystem dynamics.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 358: 1729-1740. This paper also discusses the impact on the landscape of wildebeest removal — see especially table 1. For the role of migrations in promoting extremely large populations of animals, see Fryxell, J. M., Greever, J. and Sinclair, A. R. E. 1988. “Why are migratory ungulates so abundant?” American Naturalist 131: 781-798.

For other aspects of the importance of wildebeest to the Serengeti, see McNaughton, S. J. 1976. “Serengeti migratory wildebeest: facilitation of energy flow by grazing.” Science 191: 92-94; and Frank, D. A., McNaughton, S. J. and Tracy, B. F. 1998. “The Ecology of the Earth’s Grazing Ecosystems.” BioScience 48: 513-521. This last paper also shows how herbivores such as wildebeest increase the productivity of the grasslands. Ending migrations has repeatedly caused animal populations to crash; given the known importance of wildebeest for maintaining the Serengeti ecoystem, it follows that the ending the migration would alter the landscape in numerous ways.

There are 9 comments for this article
  1. Imre Nagy at 5:08 pm

    The only real constructive alternative are the High Speed Airships of http://www.nagyairship.com
    – Need no infrastructure (nor highway, no airport, no runway)
    – It can go to any place at any elevation on Earth with the speed of 320 km/h (200 MPH)
    – It can increase the entire country's transportation
    – It can bring medical and humanitarian care to all the settlements
    – It can give absolute control over poaching by flying over and using special cameras to see activities day and night.
    – Since these airships' propulsion units using natural gas as fuel eliminating all the pollutions that cars and trucks can cause.
    – Also it will highly increase adventure travel by floating over the Serengeti and low altitude in absolute safety and confort.

    That's my opinion
    Imre Nagy

  2. Mushalik at 1:09 pm

    If this is a tourist road it won't make much sense because peak oil started in 2005. It triggered the GFC. In the next oil price shock, many airlines will hit the wall and tourism will go backwards. The rail line Dar – Mwanza should be improved.

    Visit http://www.crudeoilpeak.com for details

  3. Bmanono at 6:13 am


  4. Bmanono at 6:13 am


  5. David Williams at 3:39 am

    We must unite as humans to stop such senseless loss of habitat and life.

  6. bitch101 at 12:00 am

    I hate biology.
    I hate biology.

  7. Valentin Ngorisa at 3:41 pm

    If the Musoma – Ngorongoro residents would not have accepted the agreement to vacate serengeti, what this debate would have been?
    SW and your fellow stop this nonesense debate……….the road must go through no matter you loose your recreation and researches (money)

    • Sunni79kf at 12:33 am

      so, let all the animals die… right? Sorry, but what you spew is the real nonsense. EXPERTS & SCIENTISTS ARE STRONGLY ADVISING OF THE EFFECTS ON THE ECOSYSTEM…. DO YOU REALLY THINK YOU KNOW MORE THAN THEY DO?

  8. Ricardo at 6:30 pm

    You can blame the Bush administration partly for this problem. They lobbied SO hard to deny birth control to millions of East Africans, and this is the result.