Updated April 5, 2012
In addition to a highway through the Serengeti, there have been renewed reports that the Tanzanian government is planning a major international airport next to the Serengeti National Park. Reportedly, the airport would allow large jets to land directly from Europe and other parts of the world.
Plans for the airport were revealed in the UK press in 2007. At that time, the Director General of Tanzania National Parks came out in opposition to the airport and the planned increase in tourists and roads. He warned that these developments would be harmful to the Park and could hamper the movement of wildlife.
The Director General was later removed from his post. Tanzania’s prime minister told parliament that plans to build the airport, new hotels, and roads would go ahead, despite the opposition.
Plans stalled, presumably for lack of funds… But in 2009 there was a that a private Swiss firm has pledged $350 million dollars. It was said to be located in Mugumu, near Lake Victoria on the western boundary of the park, the terminus of the proposed Serengeti highway.
Impact on the Serengeti ecosystem
The airport is supposedly part of a new scheme to dramatically increase the number of visitors to the Park and wring more income from tourism. The Frankfurt Zoological Society, the staunchest ally of the Park for more than 50 years, publicly warned that increased tourist numbers will severely damage the ecosystem. A spokesman for Tourism Concern Kenya, echoing this warning, said that a similar tourism boom in Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve, the northern part of the Serengeti ecosystem, had severely damaged the reserve and reduced its wildlife.
As devastating as the increased tourism impacts throughout the Park is the airport’s location, in the fragile northwestern part of the Serengeti, near the the proposed highway. Aircraft would land in the town of Mugumu, which borders one of the Park’s most congested areas, both in terms of humans and wildlife. This area is critical to the wildebeest’s annual migration between Tanzania and Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve.
In 2005, scientists, park managers, conservation organizations, and local communities painstakingly mapped out a 10-year General Management Plan for the Serengeti. The plan warns of pressures on the Park’s borders “from expanding human settlement and development in the wider ecosystem. It notes that “the greatest impact is in the northwest, where villages directly border the Park boundary. Such “hard edge areas represent a challenging management issue, as it is in these areas that people have the greatest adverse impact on the wildlife values of the ecosystem.” See map below showing population.
The Plan’s authors did not even contemplate the devastating impact of an international airport, which would greatly intensify existing pressures and spawn even more long term development. Such a facility requires machinery, road infrastructure, jet fuel, and a steady stream of equipment, spares, and supplies to support it.
Simply put, the impact of a major international airport would be devastating to the future of the park. The Serengeti National Park and surrounding conservation areas are already under significant pressure. Jumbo jets landing near the Park would certainly change the Serengeti beyond recognition.
It is doubtful that another international airport is needed for the Serengeti. If one were to even be contemplated, a far more sensible location would be somewhere to the south of the park, where the new southern route around the park is to be located. Residents of the town of Mwanza, on Lake Victoria, have made made a similar point. Read more.