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Battle over the Serengeti

By Boyd Norton

I’ve been traveling to, and photographing, the Serengeti ecosystem every year for 27 years. In all that time I’ve seen some variations in the life cycles here, particularly among the grazing animals – the wildebeests, zebras, gazelles and others. Some years there has been severe drought and many animals died. It’s likely that these variations have taken place because of climate change. The rain patterns that used to be so regular and predictable are not so regular. With more than two million animals dependent on fresh grasses and water brought by those rains, changes in weather patterns can have severe consequences. And then another threat emerged.

Ngorongoro Crater, TZ

In May of 2010 I was in the Loliondo Game Controlled Area adjoining Serengeti National Park. I learned from local people that the government planned to build a major commercial highway through Loliondo that would slice across the northern part of Serengeti National Park like a knife wound. Both Loliondo and northern Serengeti National Park are a vital part of the migration route for the 2 million animals. Because these herds follow the rains, anything that might interfere with or cut off their migration could have disastrous impact on their survival. Coupled with severe fluctuations in rainfall brought about by climate change, the greatest animal migration on earth could end. Millions of animals would die.

Serengeti National Park, TZ

When I returned home in June 2010 I contacted some colleagues and we started a Facebook page STOP THE SERENGETI HIGHWAY. Currently we have nearly 44,000 followers on the page from all over the world. That’s what Serengeti means to people internationally. In December 2010 another colleague and I started a non-profit tax deductible organization Serengeti Watch for the express purpose of building a strong grass roots support in Tanzania for preserving the Serengeti ecosystem for future generations. Our intent is to train and involve local people in the use of media – writers, videographers and filmmakers, photographers and artists. In this way Tanzanians can inform and inspire other Tanzanians about the importance of Serengeti and help to build a sense of pride in conserving such places. We also plan to fund programs that would help local people get involved in ecotourism and provide a measure of economic sustainability that will also build strong support for preserving Serengeti. It will take time. And in the meantime we continue to build a loud international voice to help persuade the Tanzanian government to halt plans for this highway and to support our proposed southern route which would bypass the whole Serengeti ecosystem.

Coming in October: Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning by Boyd Norton.

About Boyd Norton

Meet Boyd Norton at the 2nd Annual Telluride Mountain Photography Festival September 26 – October 2, 2011.

In the 1960s Boyd Norton was a young nuclear physicist studying nuclear reactor safety at the Atomic Energy Commission’s National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho. His work was cutting edge and exciting (he once blew up a reactor deliberately), but he had a different plan and a passion – saving the world’s remaining wilderness – with his camera and pen.

The views expressed in this guest blog post are those of the International League of Conservation Photographers and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Readers are welcome to exchange ideas or comments, but National Geographic reserves the right to edit or delete abusive or objectionable content.