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May 13, 2011

Focus:Environment
Action Request:Read
Location:Indiana, United States

 

The plight of the Serengeti!

 

The Maasai people had been using an area callled by locals for over 200 years,"Endless Plain" , to graze their livestock. 

British big game hunters after realizing they were hunting the animals nearly to extinction, decided in 1921 to create a partial Game Preserve. Their own adtions brought into being the Serengeti National Park. By 1929 it had become a full game preserve. By 1951 it had been established as The Serengeti Nationa Park. 

A man by the name of Bernhard Grzimak and his son Michael brought more fame to the Serengeti after, together producing a blook and subsequent film, "Serengeti shall not die". This is one of the most widely recogniaed works as the earliest and among the most important pieces of Nature Conservation Documentaries. 

  Partly to create the park, also to preserve and maintain the wildlife, the Native Maasai were relocated to the Ngorongoro Highlands. 

The Serengeti is Tanzania's oldest National Park. The park covers 5,700 (14,763), kilometers of grasslands plains and Savanna in addition to riverine forest and woodlands.

The park is in the northern part of the country, bordered to the north by the Tanzania and Kenya border. Here it joins the Maasai Mara National Reserve. To the south and east of the park Ngorongoro conservation Area, south and west lies Maswa Game Reserve, and to the western borders are Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserve ,to the northeast is Loliondo Game Control Area. 

 

Human habitation is forbidden in the National Park with the exception of staff for TANAPA, researchers and staff of Frankfurt Zoological Society, and staff of the various lodges and hotels. The main settlement is Seronera which houses the majority of research staff and the park’s main headquarters, including its primary airstrip.

The park is usually described as divided in three regions:

  • Serengeti plains: the endless, almost treeless grassland of the south is the most emblematic scenery of the park. This is where the wildebeest breed, as they remain in the plains from December to May. Other hoofed animals- zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo,waterbuck- also occur in huge numbers during the wet season. Kopjes are granite florations which are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators, as well as a refuge for hyrax and pythons.
  • Western corridor: the "black cotton" (actually black clay) soil covers the swampy savannah of this region. Grumeti river is home to enormous Nile crocodiles, colobus monkey, and themartial eagle. The migration passes through from May to July.
  • Northern Serengeti: the landscape is dominated by open woodlands (predominantlyCommiphora) and hills, ranging from Seronera in the South, to the Mara river in the limit with Kenya. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra (which occur from July to August, and in November), the bushy savannah is the best place to find elephant, giraffe and dik dik. Other inhabitants incllude but are not limited to, wildebeest.Other hoofed animals- zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo,waterbuck- also occur in huge numbers during the wet season.
  • Kopjes are granite florations which are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators, as well as a refuge for hyrax and pythons.
  • Western corridor: the "black cotton" (actually black clay) soil covers the swampy savannah of this region. Grumeti river is home to enormous Nile crocodiles, colobus monkey, and themartial eagle. The migration passes through from May to July.
  • Northern Serengeti: the landscape is dominated by open woodlands (predominantlyCommiphora) and hills, ranging from Seronera in the South, to the Mara river in the limit with Kenya. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra (which occur from July to August, and in November), the bushy savannah is the best place to find elephant, giraffe and dik dik.

 

 

As well as the migration of ungulates, the park is well known for its healthy stock of other resident wildlife, particularly the "Big Five", named for the five most prized trophies taken by hunters:

  • Lion: the Serengeti is believed to hold the largest population of lions in Africa due in part to the abundance of prey species. Currently there are more than 3000 lion living in this ecosystem.
  • African Leopard: these reclusive predators are commonly seen in the Monera's region but are present through out the national park with the currently population at around 1000.
  • African Elephant: the herds are recovering from population lows in the 1980s caused by poaching, and are largely located in the northern regions of the park
  • Black Rhinoceros: mainly found around the kopjes in the centre of the park, very few individuals remain due to rampant poaching. Individuals from the Masai Mara Reserve cross the park border and enter Serengeti from the northern section at times.
  • African Buffalo: still abundant and present in healthy numbers, but numbers have been somewhat reduced due to disease

The park also supports many further species, including cheetah, Thomson's and Grant's gazelle, topi, eland, water buck, hyena, baboon,impala, African wild dog and giraffe. The park also boasts about 500 bird species, including ostrich, secretary bird, Kori bustard, crowned crane, marabou stork, martial eagle, lovebirds and many species of vultures.

As a result of the biodiversity and ecological significance of the area, the park has been listed by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites. The administrative body for all parks in Tanzania is Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA). The National Park is also gazetted as an IUCN Category II protected area, which means that it should be managed, either through a legal instrument or through another effective means in order to protect the ecosystem or ecological processes as a whole.

Myles Turner was one of the Park's first game wardens and is credited with establishing anti-poaching defences. His autobiography, My Serengeti Years: the Memoirs of an African Game Warden provides a detailed history of Serengeti National Park's early years.

As of late 2010, the Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete proposed to build a new road through Serengeti National Park. While he says that the road will lead to much-needed development in poor communities, others, including conservation groups and foreign governments such as that of Kenya, argue that the road may irreparably damage the great migration and the ecosystem of the Serengeti. It is believed that the president is doing it for personal gain in the next election in spite of being aware that he will ruin the great wildlife of the Serengeti ecosystem.

 

Wildebeest and zebra

 

The road will bisect the path of the renowned ‘great migration’ of wildebeest and zebra, when each year millions of animals migrate between the Tanzanian Serengeti and Kenyan Masai Mara in search of fresh water sources. 

 

‘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,’ said Dagmar Andres-Brümmer of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZ, who have been heavily involved with Tanzania National Parks for over 50 years. 

 

‘This would mean a collapse to far less than a quarter of its current population and, as a consequence, most likely the end of the great migration,’ he added.

 

Andrew Dobson, Professor of Conservation Biology and Infectious Disease Ecology at Princeton University, who has worked in the Serengeti since 1986, said this decline in wildebeest numbers could indirectly destroy the region's function as a major carbon sink.

 

‘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.’

 

Environmentalists are also concerned about the consequences of increased road kill for threatened species such as cheetahs, for which even a marginal increase in mortality rates could lead to disastrous population decline, as well as increased poaching, and the spread of disease and invasive plants.

 

Tourism decline fears

 

The tourism industry has also expressed concern over the potential loss of thousands of people that come to watch the migration every year and of damage to the Serengeti's reputation as an untouched wilderness. 

 

Tourism is Tanzania’s biggest source of foreign exchange, with half of the country's tourism revenue generated from the Serengeti National Park.

 

UNESCO and IUCN said they were ‘seriously concerned’ about the highway, which could see the national park lose its status as a World Heritage Site.

 

The Tanzanian government says the road will improve access for tourists and boost local economies, but some local communities have raised concerns about the potential impact the road could have on the availability of already-scarce pasture for cattle, which is their main livelihood. 

 

Alternative routes

 

Opponents of the project are pressing for an alternative route that bypasses the national park to be considered by the government. According to FSZ, the proposed alternative southern route ‘will serve five times as many people as the planned Northern road and fulfil the same needs for linking major regional centres.’

 

‘In view of the importance of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem as one of the world’s premier wildlife reserves and as a major contributor to the economies of both Tanzania and Kenya, it is hoped that the authorities in Tanzania will consider an alternative route passing around the outside of the Serengeti,’ said Jake Grieves-Cook, Chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board.

 

 

 

 

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Posted: Friday May 13, 2011, 7:37 pm
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Maggie keefe
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