Mbrazil na Serengeti North Road Nimepata hii article toka TATO (Tanzania Association of Tours Operators) Soma habari hii na utoe mawazo yako kwa Serikali. Original story in Portuguese: http://revistaepoca.globo.com/Revista/Epoca/0,,EMI235147-15228,00-AQUI+QUEM+MANDA+E+A+NATUREZA.html Translation into English, on blog Viajologia: http://colunas.epoca.globo.com/viajologia/2011/05/22/tanzania-aqui-quem-manda-e-a-natureza-nature-calls-the-shots/ Ecotourism brings tremendous wealth to Tanzania. However, ecological balance is threatened by high visitation rates while the country's most famous park may be cut by a highway. Haroldo Castro (text and photos), Serengeti (Tanzania) The 5-page story on Brazilian EPOCA magazine focus on the riches of Tanzania (such as the lions of Ruaha National Park) and the threat brought by the possible Serengeti Highway. The plains of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania are the setting for one of one of the most impressive natural spectacles on Earth: the great annual migration. Herds of up to 1.3 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras and 500,000 gazelles embark on a 450 miles round-trip journey in search of greener pastures. The movement of animals transcends borders. From August to October, they leave Tanzania and enter the Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya: there are no fences or boundaries. However, the latest project of the Tanzanian government can interfere with the movement of the animals. The government proposed the construction of a road between Arusha and Musoma that would transect the park. According to the government, the road will bring development to the region. However, for the tourism industry and conservationists, the highway represents an obvious ecological disaster. "It would fragment the ecosystem and interfere with the migration", says David Blanton, from Serengeti Watch, an NGO dedicated to protecting the park. "The project can leave a trail of devastation in the economy and ruin the reputation and the pride of the country". The Serengeti highway challenge symbolizes the all too common dilemma that Tanzania shares with other countries that have unique natural wealth. This wildlife heritage generates jobs and income. In Tanzania, the 700,000 yearly visitors contribute with US$ 950 million to the economy. It is more than the revenue generated from agriculture. But the challenge is to avoid overexploitation of parks and other economic activities that are detrimental to nature. "The development of our country is a priority, and the government needs to invest more in infrastructure", says Scholastica Ponera, director of the tour operator Pongo Safaris, from Dar es Salaam, the main city in the country. "But it must do so without staining our natural heritage". Looking for an alternative to the road that would cut the Serengeti, the German government proposed another design, going around the reserve and avoiding the partition of the park. The Southern Route brings a social advantage. "While the Northern road would benefit 430,000 Tanzanians, the Southern Route, which is longer, would assist a larger population of 2.3 million people", said Boyd Norton, director of the NGO Serengeti Watch. The World Bank and Germany have offered technical and financial support. However, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, reelected on October 2010, has not yet accepted officially the offer, insisting, in his speeches, on the Northern road. According to Wolfgang Thome, a German expert on tourism based in Uganda, one reason to build the Northern Route would be to "settle a soda ash factory at the shores of Lake Natron", an alkaline lake situated 50 miles from the Serengeti. A map of the Serengeti region shows the Northern Route (in red) and the alternative, the Southern Route (in lilac), which would not cross the Serengeti National Park (in dark green). Serengeti is not the only tourist attraction at risk in Tanzania. Ironically, the visitors themselves are threatening the environmental health of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage site. This unique region was birthed some 2 or 3 million years ago, when the Ngorongoro volcano exploded, forming a caldera nearly 12 miles in diameter. The crater is home to a spectacular ecosystem with more than 25,000 wild mammals. My first surprise is an elephant, the largest male of the species within the crater. His tusks measures almost 2 meters (6 feet) and reaches the ground. As the tusks never stop growing, it is easy to estimate that the giant is the oldest of the group. The lions of Ngorongoro have a particular history and not always healthy. Some decades ago, due to interbreeding caused by the isolation from their relatives on the Serengeti Park, some lions were born with lower immunity and other health issues. It is expensive to get inside this paradise. Visitors pay US$ 200 for each vehicle, plus US$ 50 per person. This contribution feeds the Ngorongoro conservation work with millions of dollars annually. The high price also should inhibit a greater number of visitors, reducing the impact on a fragile environment. When I saw a several of safari vehicles dashing in a particular direction, creating a trail of dust on the horizon, I was sure someone has spotted one of the big cats. At the site, all eyes, binoculars, cameras and camcorders converge on a cheetah. The cat, the fastest animal on Earth, with peaks reaching 75 miles per hour, is sitting on its legs and scans the horizon in search of a prey. The cheetah does not change position, but the cars keep coming. When I look around me, I count 16 vehicles, with a minimum of four passengers in each. It was clear that the amount of tourists was negatively impacting the environmental balance of the area. Researchers have concluded that a large number of visitors surrounding a single animal can cause stress. The most negative effect is inhibiting a predator from hunting. Even if a cheetah can accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mi/h) in just three seconds (like a Ferrari), the sprint has a high energy cost and cannot be sustained for long. Therefore, the cheetah will only decide to attack if it is sure to get the prey. In this case, the tourists have chased away the prey. The cheetah finally gets up and walks in the opposite direction to the herd of jeeps. It prefers to wait for the next opportunity to eat. This scene happens regularly. The solution to Ngorongoro is simpler than the Serengeti: authorities must implement a strict daily limit on the number of safari vehicles permitted inside the crater. With a possible highway cutting through the Serengeti and a growing traffic in Ngorongoro, the magic of watching wild animals is being transferred to areas less-traveled, such as the south of the country. The Selous Game Reserve is one of these. In the Southeastern region of the county, the reserve is covered with denser vegetation denser than that of the northern savannas, making wildlife spotting more of a challenge. In the first two hours in search of animals, I can only see a couple ogiraffes and impalas. Suddenly, my apathy is jolted by our guide hitting the brakes. In the middle of the road, I find an animal lying next to a puddle, covered in mud. It is an African wild dog, a rare and difficult species to be spotted. An endangered species, the wild dog has all but disappeared in Western Africa. Conservationists estimate there are between 3,000 and 5,500 animals distributed in three specific locations in Africa, such as the Kruger National Park (South Africa), the Okavango Delta (Botswana) and here in the Selous Reserve. The largest protected area in Tanzania is Ruaha National Park. The ancient baobab tree, the most symbolic tree in Africa that is able to store thousands of gallons of water, seems to have found the perfect soil in Ruaha. A ranger estimates that Ruaha contains at least half a million of these trees. During the nine months that the baobab is leafless, its dry branches looks like a tortuous tangle of roots that reach for the heavens. During the days in Ruaha, I hardly encounter a 4×4 game vehicle. It feels as though I have the entire park to myself, the exact opposite sensation I had while in Ngorongoro. Here, nature imposes itself. The number of elephants is 100 times that of people living in the park. There are more than 10,000 pachyderms, consisting of the largest population of elephants in Eastern Africa. However, my most spectacular encounter was with lions. In three days, I saw 29 cats in three different prides. One particular group was huddled under the shade of a tree, fast asleep without a worry in the world. The only sign that they were alive was the occasional twitch from the feline dreamland. But suddenly, in a split second, the male of the group awakes, growls, gets up and runs to grab a misguided impala that had stumbled into the wrong area. Taken by surprise, the gazelle chooses the incorrect escape route and, instead of returning from back to where it came from, the impala falls right in to the lions' den. Four females, skillful hunters, are awakened by the roar of the male and receive the impala open-mouthed. One grabs the neck, another the back. Two others lionesses emerge and capture two legs. The male also want its share and rips its head. In five seconds, the impala was sliced by the felines, who moments ago seemed to be sluggishly living a lazy dream. To witnessing a lion kill in the wild is a rare event. It is no coincidence that this moment happened in Ruaha, away from the vans of tourists of Ngorongoro and from a proposed highway that could split a natural sanctuary. Here, nature calls the shots.