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Serengeti Animals Saved from Highway

Plans to construct a major highway through the middle of the Serengeti National Park have been scrapped.

This is very good news for millions of the Earth’s most iconic animals – from elephants to lions to zebras to wildebeest, whose migration routes would have been blocked at their most vulnerable points, denying them access to food and water.

The purpose of the highway was to make it easy to transport minerals from mines in and around Lake Victoria to the coast. These minerals include lithium, which is used in cellphones and hybrid car batteries.

Conservationists everywhere were horrified by the plan. They noted that the annual migrations would effectively cease, that the wildebeest population would collapse, affecting the entire ecosystem, and that life would become a great deal easier for poachers, who could bag bewildered animals close to the highway and truck them out to the coast.

One study by a group of scientists showed that the effect of the highway on wildebeest alone would have been to cause a decline in their population by one third – not including accidents on the highway itself. “Given the important role of the wildebeest migration for a number of key ecological processes,” they wrote in the study, “these findings have potentially important ramifications for ecosystem biodiversity, structure, and function in the Serengeti.”

Outrage was fueled by the fact that there was an alternative southern route, which, while a bit longer, avoids the park entirely.

Numerous petitions were launched, along with private diplomacy between the government of Tanzania and wildlife organizations, and, it’s believed, the World Bank, which offered to help fund the alternate southern route. Yesterday, the government has said it will build the highway along that route.

In terms of wildlife, the Serengeti is considered the world’s greatest national park. It’s frightening to think that its very existence, and the lives of so many animals, were held in the balance – their value weighed against people being able to ship cellphone batteries for a few cents less.

More about the latest news at the BBC.

Download the conservation study here.