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The global conservation community has been fighting a declaration from the government of Tanzania stating its intent to build a commercial road through Serengeti National Park. Recently, the government restated its position in a letter (PDF) to the UN’s World Heritage Center: no commercial road will be built across the Serengeti. 

This letter should be seen as a win to the conservation community. Here’s what Frankfurt Zoological Society Director Markus Borner, who has been leading the charge to stop the road through the Serengeti, stated:

“In a nutshell the conclusions were:

1. All roads in the Serengeti National Park remain under the authority of Tanzania National Parks. No public/commercial roads.

2. Park roads will be mainly for tourism and management. Commercial use is only an exception, and not more than at present.

3. No tarmac in the ecological fragile zone outside the National Park between Loliondo and Mugumu (a stretch of 126 km) and no tarmac adjacent to the park boundaries.”

Sounds great. Job well done, right? But why then are many people still frustrated and not sure this is the best final outcome? 

The first problem that many see is that roads will still be paved to just outside Serengeti on the west and the east, so “connecting the dots” in the future will be an easier task.

Additionally, many feel that these roads will improve access to ecologically significant Lake Natron, potentially making the long-debated extraction of soda ash more viable.

And finally, it looks like funding will be made available to develop the southern route. While the southern route does not bisect Serengeti, it might pass right through Yaeda Valley, home of the Hadza hunter-gatherers.

Most conservationists agree that improving the road network and supporting development are critical for Tanzania. But we all wish the process could be more transparent and more considerate of ecologically significant areas in northern Tanzania.

Perhaps we now have the compromise we have all been looking for. But this conservationist isn’t quite sure just yet.

—Text by Matt Brown, Cool Green Science Blog. Brown is director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Africa.

Serengeti's long and winding road
A proposed road through prime migratory lands has caused big controversy. Now the Tanzanian government has reached a compromise... so why aren't conservationist