50th anniversary poses new challenges for Serengeti


The Serengeti National Park just celebrated its half century anniversary amid reports on the growing challenges for the national park by human encroachment, demands for concessions by lodge developers and increased tourist traffic into the park.

Unlike in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, the Kenyan extension to the Serengeti ecosystem, there are substantially less lodges and tented camps located in the Serengeti, a standard wildlife conservationists intend to maintain for the long term benefit of the park. New developments may have to find suitable land outside the park proper but can, like it was done in Kenya, create “conservancies” to raise the wildlife attractions in their immediate neighborhood, while still taking their guests on safari into the park area for game drives or balloon rides.

The Serengeti is also a UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Site and as such subject to stringent supervision in order to maintain this acclaimed status. The park was immortalized in Germany, Europe and around the world through the work and dedication of the late professor Bernhard Grzimek, long time head of the Frankfurt Zoo, an organization that continues its support to the park to this day. Grzimek’s books and film series in the 50s, 60s and 70s called “Serengeti Must Not Die” has since then made this park one of the best known around the world and attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years. The late Prof. Dr. Grzimek and his late son, who died in an air crash in the Serengeti while filming, are both buried in Tanzania and their grave sites have become a visitor magnet in their own right.

Human population pressure has also become a growing challenge for the wildlife managers and the government in Tanzania, not only around the Serengeti but also other national parks and game reserves, and only a national dialogue on the way forward and a meaningful sharing of the proceeds from conservation and tourism with the neighboring communities will likely prevent the worst of excesses and intrusions in coming years.

Meanwhile, at the nearby “cradle of mankind,” the Olduvai Gorge, more footprints of the ancestors of modern mankind were discovered recently and a debate is ongoing among the custodians and researchers that further excavation and uncontrolled access by visitors may damage the discoveries beyond repair. The first of these footprints were found in the 70s and further research since then discovered a trail nearly 100 feet long, where the foot print impressions were conserved in volcanic ash, since then turned rock.

Tourists to the Olduvai Museum may have to settle for pictures and short films for the time being, so that research can continue uninterrupted and protective measures be put in place to conserve the discoveries long term. Sources from Dar es Salaam in fact could give neither time frame nor any assurance that the discoveries may ever be open for regular tourists.