Category Archives: Mara Triangle

Leakey interview in SWARA and on NTV Wild Talk at 10 pm

NTV Wild Talk, broadcast an interview with Richard Leakey about the past and the present for wildlife and heritage in Kenya. It aired on Tuesday March 15 on NTV at 10 pm.
I also want to draw attention to the new article in SWARA here  in which he states

“Parks will only be sustainable if Kenyans want them to be sustainable. Middle class Kenyans who own TV sets watch international soccer, international vanity shows and news but none of them watch wildlife programmes because they’ve never been put on air in this country.”

Richard Leakey

This sentiment is the reason that we created NTV Wild. For those who have not been able to catch previous episodes, NTV Wild is a partnership between NTV, WildlifeDirect and KWS to broadcast wildlife documentaries made in Kenya and Africa on national Television for the first time in our history to inspire Kenyans to visit our parks and appreciate our spectacular wildlife heritage. The program airs on Saturdays and a discussion program on Tuesdays.
This is the list of all the NTV Wild documentaries so far on Saturday’s at 8 pm
1. Mzima Haunt of the River Horse – Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone
2. The Last Lions – Derek and Beverly Joubert
3. African Cats – DisneyNature
4. Here be Dragons – Alan Root
5. Battle For the Elephants – Nat Geo
6. The Queen of Trees – Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone
NTV Wild Talk on Tuesdays at 10 pm


Launching the series with Jonathan Scott


NTV Wild Talk S1 E1 “The mystery of Mzima”

 NTV Wild Talk S1 E2 “Kenya-US relations in protecting wildlife”

NTV Wild Talk S1 E3 “Stopping wildlife trafficking through Kenya”

NTV Wild Talk S1 E4 “Saving Kenya’s big cats”

NTV Wild Talk S1 E5 “Safeguarding Karura Forest”


TV Wild Talk S1 E6 “Wildlife Newbies & Champions”

In this episode: Kitili Mbathi shares the challenges & successes at KWS, Lena Munge tells of how she hopes to transform the Masai Mara, Najib Balala explains why he jumped off a plane for conservation & 12 yr old Luca Berardi stresses the importance of wildlife for future generations.

Both the documentaries and the talk shows have been trending on twitter since we began 7 weeks ago and people are telling us that they are setting their alarm clocks to catch the programs. We are already on week 7 and we have 45 more  to go! Enjoy
















#NTVWild panel discussion: Understanding the wild in Kenya with Jonathan Scott

It was a pleasure to listen and watch Jonathan Scott LIVE in studio. Many have watched him on Big Cat Diaries but few have ever met him. Along with Dr. Paula Kahumbu, WildlifeDirect CEO and Paula Mbugua from KWS, they talked about the new series #NTVWild that Premieres on NTV KENYA on Saturday January 16, 2016

Watch the discussion here:




The Marsh Pride: end of an era

Jonathan Scott: The poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride, the world’s best known lions, highlights the need for a lasting solution to human–wildlife conflict in Africa


Lioness Bibi in her prime in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Bibi was a member of the Marsh Pride that featured in the BBC TV series “Big Cat Diary” from 1996 to 2008. Bibi died on 6 December 2015 after being poisoned along with other members of the pride. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

Lioness Bibi in her prime in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Bibi was a member of the Marsh Pride that featured in the BBC TV series “Big Cat Diary” from 1996 to 2008. Bibi died on 6 December 2015 after being poisoned along with other members of the pride. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

On Sunday morning (6 December 2015) news broke of the poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride. These are the lions that Angela and I have followed since 1977 and were the stars of our “Big Cat” TV series, that documented the fascinating and often tumultuous life of the pride over a period of more than 12 years.

The Marsh Pride occupies a territory on the edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, one of Africa’s foremost protected areas. All members of the “big five” (lion, leopard, African elephant, African buffalo, and black rhinoceros) are found on the vast plains of the Mara, plus a wealth of other wildlife.

On Saturday night, the lions had killed cattle belonging to a family living near the reserve. In retaliation, a member of the family sprinkled pesticide onto the carcass, knowing that the lions would return. He was intentionally trying to kill them. How many lions have died as a result is still unclear.


The body of Marsh Lioness Bibi, who died from poisoning at 7.30 am on Sunday 6 December 2015, along with other members of the Marsh Pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

The body of Marsh Lioness Bibi, who died from poisoning at 7.30 am on Sunday 6 December 2015, along with other members of the Marsh Pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

I wish I could say that this was shocking news, but there is nothing shocking any more about what is happening in the Masai Mara. Tens of thousands of cattle encroach in to the Reserve every night when visitors are safely out of sight – but when the likelihood of conflict with predators such as lions and hyenas is at its greatest. This makes no sense.

This sorry state of affairs is testimony to the appalling management of the Reserve east of the river. This is a situation that has existed for at least as long as I have known the Masai Mara. Management failures contributed to the precipitous decline in the Mara’s black rhino population from an estimated 150 to 200 in the 1960s to just 11 by 1983 (it has risen again to between 30 and 40).

The BBC filmed the hugely popular TV series ‘Big Cat Diary’ in Marsh Pride territory from 1996 to 2008. Our base in the Mara was – and still is – a stone cottage at Governor’s Camp. This is a safari camp set in the heart of the reserve, in the vicinity of the glorious Musiara Marsh after which the Marsh Lions were named.

The Marsh is the heart of the Marsh Pride’s dry season territory, while to the east the intermittent watercourse known as Bila Shaka was the traditional breeding site and resting place for the pride. Bila Shaka means ‘without fail’ in Swahili, testimony that the guides could always find lions here. Not now.

Each year Governor’s Camp outfitted a special tented camp for us along the Mara River just upstream from Main Camp. The foundation of the series was that we always knew that we could find lions, leopards and cheetahs in the area on a daily basis. The Marsh Pride were at the heart of the series, and virtually never let us down.

The Marsh Pride at home in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

The Marsh Pride at home in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

But that all changed when the authorities decided to turn a blind eye to the incursion of cattle into the reserve, forcing the lions to move out or risk death. The Marsh Pride has always been vulnerable since its territory spreads beyond the reserve boundary. This is particularly apparent in the wet season when Musiara Marsh (and Bila Shaka at times) becomes waterlogged and the lions move to higher ground to north and east.

Each year we lose lions to poisoning or spearing by pastoralists. That was always part of life for the lions. But in the last few years the situation has escalated beyond all reason, with the Marsh Pride becoming increasingly fragmented by the influx of cattle and herdsmen. Today it would be impossible to film Big Cat Diary in the same location. What a damning fact that is.

This year the impact of livestock has been all too apparent. Huge herds of cattle would camp during the daytime along the boundary of the reserve waiting for the tourists to head in to camp. Soon the Musiara area looked like a desert and each night you could see dozens of flickering torches as the cattle were driven in to the reserve after dark.

The deep tracks leading into the reserve are testament to this, along with piles of cattle dung scattered deep inside it. And the Musiara area is not alone. Guides from other parts of the Mara have been complaining about this situation for years. But nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.

These incursions are threatening the social cohesion – and very existence – of the Marsh Pride. Earlier in the year a breakaway group of young Marsh Pride females with young cubs were forced to cross the Mara River and set up home in the Kichwa Tembo area. The older females – Bibi (17), Sienna (11) and Charm (11) – and their cubs increasingly avoided Bila Shaka and the Marsh, loitering at the fringes of their traditional territory, forced to encroach on neighbouring prides.

The pride males – Scarface and his three companions – no longer visit the Musiara area, ever since Scarface was shot in 2013. He was treated and recovered but knew better than to stay.

In the past pride males often only managed a tenure of 2 years – sometimes less – before being forced out of their pride by younger or more powerful rivals. It was not uncommon to see groups of five or six young nomadic males roaming the Musiara or Paradise area together. I have counted as many as nine travelling as a group. That was a sign of a healthy lion population with lots of dispersing sub-adults.

Now Marsh Pride males are able to remain as pride males for many more years, due to a decline in the number of young nomadic male lions vying to replace them. The scarcity of these nomadic males suggests that they are not surviving as well as in the past, due to the disturbance that lions are facing on a nightly basis in parts of the Mara from livestock and herdsmen, or from trying to survive in less optimal areas beyond the reserve boundary.

Lions are always going to kill livestock if it comes within range – and of course they will sometimes kill livestock outside the reserve and must bear the consequences when they do. The only way to prevent this happening is if there are sufficient incentives to persuade the herdsmen that lions equate to tourists – and that means a financial return.

And that is the key point. Many Masai do not think of the Masai Mara Reserve as a source of income. They often feel that it is unfair that wildlife is allowed to share their pastures, and sometimes kill their livestock, while they are not allowed to reciprocate by bringing livestock in to the Reserve during dry times.

The Masai have roamed these areas for hundreds of years, long before it was given official protection. Understandably the Masai claim the Mara as their own. The authorities urgently need to address this issue by ensuring that everyone benefits from tourism to the Mara in a truly tangible way.

There will be no safe place for the Marsh Lions until the reserve authorities decide to address all of the issues that have been debated ever since I first came to live in the Mara in 1977. Measures must be taken now to ensure an equitable distribution of revenue from the reserve to the local community, and to increase support for the wildlife conservancies created on private lands around the reserve, where cattle grazing is permitted on a rotational basis.

Within the reserve, there should be a moratorium on any further tourism development, and an embargo on grazing of livestock.

What a miracle it would be if the demise of the Marsh Pride became the catalyst for serious dialogue and change as to how the Masai Mara is managed. The Governor of Narok County, the Honorable Samuel Ole Tunai, pledged to do just that when he called a Masai Mara Stakeholders Meeting in Nairobi in September 2015.

I attended that meeting and was impressed by the number of people who made the effort to come along and by the Governor’s openness to dialogue. Since then a small group of concerned individuals drawn from all walks of life have worked to support the Governor’s initiative.

We can only hope that we are about to witness tangible steps towards securing the future of this iconic landscape and its magnificent wildlife.


Paula Kahumbu writes: This is an edited version of an article written by Jonathan and Angela Scott and published on their blog on 7 December 2015. Jonathan and his wife Angie are award winning authors and internationally renowned wildlife photographers. My sincere thanks to Jonathan and Angela for permission to publish the article here.

Responding to a tip-off from visitors, the Kenya Wildlife Service and local authorities acted swiftly to bring the culprits to court, while the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and other local conservation organisations were prompt to treat the affected lions. But despite this veterinary support three lions have already died. At the time of writing, another four are still sick. The condition of others is not known.

Kenya has never before charged a person with poisoning wildlife, even though it is a frequent crime that has devastating effects on populations of lions, vultures and other predators.

However in this case the new Wildlife Crime Prosecution Unit has moved quickly to charge the suspects of this crime with offences against endangered wildlife species under Section 92 of the 2013 Wildlife Act, which could result in a fine of Ksh 20 million (USD 200,000) and/or life imprisonment.

This is another welcome sign that Kenyan courts are now taking wildlife crimes seriously. As Jonathan eloquently argues, this needs to be backed up by action to address the root causes of wildlife crime, inspired by the vision of a common future for people and wildlife

Wildlife Warriors OST Report

The Wildlife Warriors event at Brookhouse School attracted nearly twice as many people as we expected. Though we
targeted young people from Nairobi, grandparents, teachers, and many grown ups from all corners of the country
including expatriates came. This revealed a surprising level of interest in citizen participation. It also confirmed that young people feel that their
views about wildlife conservation are as important as those of adults. Hundreds of recommendations about creating a
generation of Wildlife Warriors were generated which revealed some general findings.

We are pleased to finally release the report of the first ever Open Space Technology event to be held in Nairobi. We apologize for the delay in getting this report out to the public and welcome comments on it. Please find the soft copy version of the report here

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Kenya’s biggest elephant killed by poachers

By Paula Kahumbu

Satao, the world's biggest elephant, with his family in the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

Satao, the world’s biggest elephant, with his family in the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

It is 4 am and I have been sitting at my computer for hours. I just can’t sleep after hearing the terrible news that Satao, the world’s biggest elephant, is dead

Satao lived in Tsavo East National park in southeast Kenya and was celebrated as one of the last surviving great tuskers, bearers of genes that produce bull elephants with huge tusks reaching down to the ground. This news follows hard on the heels of the slaughter of another legendary tusker, Mountain Bull, deep inside the forests of Mt. Kenya .

Of all the elephants that have died in Kenya, these deaths are the hardest to bear. The grief in Kenya at the slaughter of our iconic elephants is translating into floods of tears, emotional poems, and outrage on Twitter and Facebook.

I had suspected for days that Satao was dead. The rumours were too many and they came from too many different people for them not to be true. Bad news travels fast in Kenya. Moreover, like everyone who had ever heard of Satao, I was already concerned for his safety.

I first learned about Satao through an emotional and beautifully written blog post by Mark Deeble, who described him as being so intelligent that he knew he needed to protect his enormous tusks by intentionally hiding in bushes so they couldn’t be seen. At the end of the post Mark wrote:

I am appalled at what that means – that the survival skills that the bull has painstakingly learnt over half a century have been rendered useless by the poachers’ use of mass-produced Chinese goods; GPS smart-phones, cheap motorcycles and night vision goggles.

I think the old bull knows that poachers want his tusks, and I hate that he knows.

More than anything, I hate the thought that poachers are now closing in on one of the world’s most iconic elephants.

Then in early March, during the great elephant census, we heard that the poachers had got to him. Mike Chase from Elephants without Borders reported seeing two seeping wounds on Satao’s flank. Veterinarians rushed to the scene and confirmed that these were arrow wounds.

It’s hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the poachers on the day that they approached this mountain of an elephant and shot at him with crude bows and poisoned arrows. It must have been terrifying and yet the sight of his massive gleaming tusks probably left them salivating with greed.


For days Satao must have endured excruciating pain from the festering wounds. But he recovered and we all heaved a sigh of relief when it was reported that his wounds were healing on their own. The Facebook post by Save the Elephants about his recovery attracted more 200 “get well soon” comments.

Then in the first week of June Richard Moller, Executive Director of The Tsavo Trust, found a massive elephant carcass in a swamp. “I knew instinctively in my gut that this was Satao, but there was a tiny chance that I was wrong. I had to verify it before we go public,” Richard told me.

The Tsavo Trust runs an inspirational campaign to bring attention to Kenya’s last great tuskers . Their work brings huge joy and celebration every time an elephant with tusks sweeping to the ground is found.

When I heard that Satao may have been killed, I posted a message on Facebook. I said I hoped that the rumours were wrong and that Satao was safe. I had to hastily remove the post after Richard explained: “We don’t want to alarm people if there’s even a 1% chance that Satao is still alive”.

For days Richard and (Kenyan Wildlife Service) KWS rangers visited the carcass. It was certainly a giant tusker, but it was hard to tell if this was Satao, as the face was mutilated face and the tusks gone. They flew over the park and searched for Satao, hoping against all odds that he was still alive.

Then finally, yesterday on 12 June, Richard admitted to me that his first gut feeling had been right:

Today I had to write my official report to KWS and confirm to them that Satao is dead. It was the hardest report that I have ever written, I couldn’t see past a wall of tears.

In voice choked with grief he begged me not to post anything on this blog until KWS had officially broken the news.


From a biodiversity perspective, tuskers are rare specimens, the pinnacle of their species. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014

From a biodiversity perspective, tuskers are rare specimens, the pinnacle of their species. Photograph: © Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone 2014


It is not only the rangers in Tsavo or those who knew Satao who are sorrowful, all of Kenya is in a state of deep grief. Satao was not just a Kenyan icon, he was a global treasure. He was of such a phenomenal size that we knew poachers would want him, and no effort was spared to protect him. He had 24/7 protection from KWS and conservation organizations. Even as we mourn Satao’s passing, Kenyan’s are asking: what went wrong?

It may take days for the KWS to provide more details about this terrible news. The country’s authorities are loath to admit the scale of the current crisis.

According to the latest figures published by KWS, 97 elephants have been poached in Kenya so far this year . Nobody in Kenya believes this figure, which suggests that less than one percent of the national elephant population have fallen to poachers’ guns.

The official figures do not tally with the many reports of elephant killings in and around the Masai Mara, Samburu, Loita Hills, Marsabit, Tsavo, Mount Kenya, Aberdares, Shimba Hills and the north eastern coastal forests.

I estimate, from the reports I have seen, that the elephant poaching in Kenya is at least 10 times the official figures, but it is impossible to verify this as the KWS jealously guards the elephant mortality database.

A few brave people within the system describe a systematic cover up of the real figures. To many of us Kenyans, this problem is even more serious than the poaching. Our wildlife services are like the drug addicts who are the most difficult to help, those in denial that there is a problem to be fixed.

Those at the helm who craft the KWS’s communications seem blissfully unaware of the damage caused to Kenya’s reputation by the lack of transparency and accountability around poaching figures.

Kenyans are angry and confused. Elephants do not belong to KWS but to the people of Kenya. Elephants are an important national asset that make a significant contribution to Kenya’s GDP through tourism. It is therefore in the national interest that the correct figures are shared with the public.

It is also confusing for donors. KWS is fighting furiously for funds to strengthen anti-poaching efforts, and massive ivory seizures also continue to snatch headlines, but according to official figures and statements, there is no elephant poaching crisis.

The appalling news of Satao’s death comes at a time when Kenya is preparing to showcase our conservation successes at the UNEP Governing Assembly which starts on 24 June. Instead Kenyan delegates will bear the heavy burden of conveying the news of the passing of this gentle, intelligent and compassionate giant.

I call on Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, to set the tone for the Governing Assembly by starting with a minute’s silence: so that delegates can reflect on their duty of care towards our fellow beings, and in memory of Satao, Mountain Bull, and all the others who have died before them.

Poachers jailed in Masai Mara

A Narok court has just sent two men who were in possession of ivory to jail for a year each plus a fine. Narok is the administrative headquarters for the world famous Masai Mara area where the wildebeest migration is in full swing. Poaching of elephants and rhino in the Mara threatens a hugely successful tourism industry.

This is the third case in Narok county where jail sentences have been given for wildlife crimes WITH NO OPTION OF A FINE.

Why is this significant? Narok has been the most notorious court where poachers have been getting off on small fines, cases withdrawn and evidence lost, and where corruption is considered “normal”.

The recent high profile case of the arrest of a gang of three including a former KWS officer arrested on suspicion of poaching in the Mara will attract much local attention. The trio had guns, night vision goggles, saws and a GPS presumably with rhino locations logged into it.



First, the campaign HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS is having an enormous impact on public views and reactions. With full page and half page informational advertisements running for a full month has created new discussions. According to one person on the ground “The media attention is making a hell of a difference. Conversations about the attention to this issue are being heard all over, and these conversations include discussions around the fact that magistrates have not been handling cases properly”

KTN News Anchor in Kenya


HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS in the newspaper

Secondly, magistrates are on notice. When justice is not served, the public is appealing sentences which opens up cases in the high court. This scrutiny of rulings and overturning of sentences is an embarrassment to any magistrate and it undermines their authority.


In the Narok case a new precedent has been set.

On 4th May 2013 three men, Daniel Kararon Tasur, Letasuna Sadera and Simpai ole Seki, were arrested in the Mara region with 40kg of ivory estimated to be worth  KES 4 million.

They were arraigned in Narok Court and pleaded not guilty on 6th May and then changed plea to guilty on 20th May. They were fined KES 40,000 on both counts or KES 80,000 each. They paid the same afternoon.

This ruling by the Magistrate flies in the face of the recent decisions by NESC, His Excellency President Kenyatta’s speech at his inauguration, and the discussion in Parliament on 23rd May this year.

The case was reviewed in light of the fact that the magistrate could have applied much more punitive penalties under the existing laws

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, through his officers took the case up at the Nakuru High Court and the sentences were declared illegal. This means the three will be re-sentenced.

According to a witness “For the first time, someone is monitoring these wildlife crime cases and following up – when before, people used to just go back to business, now the cases are being referred to the top most courts. This has had a huge effect.”


In the Maasai Mara where elephants, rhino and leopards are being targeted by poachers, the police and the magistrates can no longer sweep cases under the carpet. The high level of government oversight means that the can no longer issue Ksh 30,000 fines.  Junior magistrates have to give custodial sentences with no option of a fine because they are obliged to follow the precedent of the principle magistrate.

Hands Off Our Elephants in the papers

What people are saying is that the WildlieDirect HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS campaign is reaping real and significant impacts on the seriousness with which the police and magistrates are handling cases, the depth of media reporting and the attitudes of the public at large. We are witnessing moral indignation whenever magistrates fail to deliver justice.

It’s not just the Mara that is benefiting. A court in Kwale also sent two men to jail for poaching elephants.

Young Kenyans support the campaign


This successful strategy has benefited from the expertise of strategic consultant Helen Gibbons who has worked with WildlifeDirect since October 2012 in critically thinking through the strategys and actions that we could target to make a major difference. Helen is an expert on campaign strategy and her love for elephants makes her contribution many times more significant.

We also thank Shamini Jayanathan from the British High Commission who has provided the legal expertise around maters concerning the law and enforcement. Shamini might as well be an honorary Kenyan and she has provided expertise that has until now been largely absent when it comes to legal matters around wildlife law enforcement in Kenya.

We are also indebted to the team at TBWA have developed the most successful communications campaign on wildlife that Kenya has ever seen through bold and effective messaging that not only informs, but calls Kenyans to action.

We thank them all for the successful beginning of a wonderful campaign.

To support our work please make a donation now. 

Hands Off says Transworld Safaris

We are extremely grateful to Sushil Chauhan and Transworld Safaris (Kenya) Ltd for their support and branding their fleet with the Hands Off Our Elephants stickers.

On vehicle up close

On vehicle up close



We look forward to seeing these stickers on more and more vehicles.



KTN continues coverage on Elephants

Kenya Television Network (KTN) a local television station in Nairobi, Kenya continues to cover the poaching crisis in East Africa.

Follow their segment, PERSPECTIVE here…

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In the Mara Wildebeest Migration podcast

Dear Friends,

Last week I visited the Masai Mara with conservationists and a news reporter as part of preparations in producing a news piece about the situation.

Listen to my 5 minute podcast with sounds of the wildebeest crossing the river, and lions roaring here

The sight and sounds of the plains swarming with wildebeest is something that all citizens of planet earth should one day enjoy. It will not be possible if the Tanzanians build a highway across the migrating path of the wildebeest. I took tons of photos and recorded the sounds of these extraordinary animals.

wildebeest2small1.3 million wildebeest and Zebra arrive in Kenya after months of trekking across the Tanzanian savannas in search of short sweet grass of the Mara plains in Kenya. It’s the dry season and they are hungry.


They form fantastic concentrations not seen anywhere else in the world


But to get to the sweet grass they have to cross the mighty Mara River – it can take hours before the first animal takes the plunge.

vulture flyingsmallPredators are aware that there will be a feeding frenzy – vultures glide overhead in anticipation.

taking plungesmall2The first wildebeest take the plunge and begin the frantic panic across the raging river.

tourists migration2smallSeveral tourist vans arrive to watch the spectacle which goes on for hours.

wildebeest calfsmallOnce they’ve crossed mothers try to find their calves


The massive crocodiles didn’t take a single animal in the crossing we watched – too full from gorging themselves the day before.

The Tanzanian Government plans to construct a highway across the Serengeti which will stop the migrating wildebeest and bring and end to the great migration. If you would like to know more about this impending crisis, please check out my previous posts on it.

Please join us in protesting the Tanzanian authorities who plan to build the Serengeti Highway by joining the Facebook group and signing this petition on Care2.

Richard Leakey comments on the Serengeti Highway

We informed you earlier of the Tanzania authorities plans to construct a commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park will bring an end to one of the worlds greatest spectacles, the wildebeest migration.That blog post attracted numerous comments – not one reader thinks it’s a good idea!

So I went further and interviewed renowned conservationist, Richard Leakey about the project and why it threatens a globally important heritage should the Tanzania authorities go ahead.

Listen to the podcast here – Richard Leakey comments on Serengeti Highway the transcript is below.


Over 1.3 million wildebeest and zebras participate in one of the worlds greatest spectacles, The great migration in Kenya and Tanzania. But this could end in a matter of years, the Tanzanian authorities have just approved the construction of a commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park to develop the northern and western towns along Lake Victoria. Executive Director of WildlifeDirect, Dr. Paula Kahumbu, interviewed renowned conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey, to understand the consequences of a strip of tarmac across the path of millions of migrating animals, and discusses the alternative options that the Tanzanian authorities have for development in this impoverished region.

If the player doesn’t work for you you can read the transcript below


It’s early July 2010 and the wildebeest migration has just started, over a million wildebeest and zebra are expected to flood into Kenya’s Masai Mara from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park crossing crocodile infested rivers, and dodging lions and other predators. The ‘Great Wildebeest Migration, as it’s come to be known’ has been occurring every year, at about the same time for thousands of years. The Wildebeest, zebras and other plains game take a journey of over 2,000km in search of grazing. The time they reach southern Kenya, the Masai plains are swarming with fantastic concentrations of wildlife.

The great migration attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to both Kenya and Tanzania, but conservationists say that this global spectacle is in danger. The Tanzanian authorities have just approved the construction of a highway across the Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, it cuts right across the northern path of the migrating wildebeest at a time when they are most vulnerable. Conservationists are up in arms about the decision, and warn that a commercial highway across the Serengeti will bring an end to the great migration.

But the Tanzanian authorities insist that the highway is essential for development in this impoverished region, and that their own environmental impact studies show that it will not disrupt the migration. They plan to start construction in early 2012.

I put these fears to one of the most renowned conservationists in Africa Dr. Richard Leakey, in his Nairobi office.

What do you understand about this proposal that the Tanzanian government has put in place?

Well I think for the development of the great lakes and the development of Tanzanian business interests, they obviously do need a good road network, and putting a road that links the Indian ocean port of Dar es Salaam with Musoma and Mwanza on Lake Victoria is obviously of critical national interest to the Tanzanians. The question arises however, is what is this going to do to the critical Serengeti wildebeest -zebra migration?

Well they say that the TZ government is doing this for the sake of economic development, but why is this particular road so important?

Well I think the road is important, the sighting o the road raises questions and there is an alternative route that goes south of the Serengeti that would serve a very large population of Tanzanians on the way to the Lake. It might cost slightly more, but I would have thought that the southern route was in many ways the best option, but they obviously also need a route that would open up lake Natron and the northern part of Serengeti with access to Kenya and things of that kind.

I can see the economic arguments but we must remember that the purpose of this is to grow the towns of Mwanza and Musoma on Lake Victoria, and at the moment you are talking about half a million people in each town, perhaps. Lets project forward 50 years, lets project to a time when those cities are 3 – 4 million people each, can the Serengeti withstand not just the road as we see it today, but the road as it has to be 50 years from now.

That begs the question, are the animals really worth more than the economic developments that this road will actually bring?

I would hope that it’s not a question of either the animals or the economic development, the animals should be part of the economic development, and there seems to be two options

One would be to re-examine the possibility of the main arterial road linking Lake Victoria with the Indian ocean going south of the Serengeti and putting in an additional road that would open up the northern part of Lake Natron with Loliondo  and up to the Kenya Tanzania border near the Mara which is  a very viable possibility. Alternatively should we not be thinking of whether the y couldn’t elevate the road, as it crosses the Serengeti, put it up on stilts so that the animals could move freely below it. This would be very expensive but not impossible.

Conservationists and tour companies are warning that the construction of the highway will lead to the collapse of populations of wildebeest and zebra.  They are predicting the end of the great migration. But why will these great animals disappear – after all, the numbers of wildebeest and Zebras exceed 1.3 million  individuals and they cross much more difficult terrain than a tarmac road, they are crossing crocodile infested rivers every single year. So what does a narrow strip of road really do to stop these animals from crossing?

I think it’s a narrow strip of road as we envision it today, but it won’t be a narrow strip of road in 30 or 40 years, that’s for sure. There will be a railway line that will parallel it, and there will probably be a 6 lane highway in each direction. So I don’t think we should think of it as a narrow strip of road that we project in to the year 2015, that’s the first point. The second point is that wildebeest and Zebra have to migrate into Kenya and the Masai Mara which is the northern extent of the migratory route which enables these vast numbers of animals to access fresh grass after the rains. If that road becomes too difficult to cross because of a continuous line of traffic in either direction, the wildebeest wont’ make the crossing, and they will be turned back in fear of the road and therefore will overgraze their existing range in Tanzania and will disappear for all time.

Lets say that this road goes ahead and that the protests of conservationists and tourist organizations, the TZ government goes forward and builds this highway, leading to the decline of the wildebeest and the zebras and the migration stops. Does that really matter? Is that a problem?

Well you could argue that it doesn’t matter.  I would think that preserving one of the last great spectacles on the planet, a planet that used to have far more of this but all of which has been destroyed by humanity except this one, is something we should save, it is a responsibility of the Tanzanian government to play it’s role in making the planet a better place for future generations. And by deliberately going into an action that could degrade one of the great spectacles of wildlife on the planet is a very heavy responsibility. I hope the TZ government and the backers of this scheme will think very carefully about not just the next ten years which is the life of their parliament and the life of their president in office, but the next 50 to 100 years. We should be projecting this planets needs way beyond the 15 – 20 years that is all politicians seem to be able to do today.

So if you were the president of Tanzania and you had to make a decision, there’s the economic benefits the short term, and the long term rewards of keeping the Serengeti and the migration going, what would you do?

I think the TZ government which enjoys a really first rate international standing amongst conservationists for having done so much since the days of Julius Nyerere their first president to create new national Parks and to put in place actions that have saved vast areas of their country for wildlife. I think they should think carefully about squandering that reputation. There are alternatives, they may be more expensive, but the world is so concerned, I think, about the importance of this, that additional money could be found to either do two roads. One to the south which is the main artery, one to the north for development of the nothern area but that would not dissect or cross the Serengeti. Or they should give serious thoughts to the feasibility of an engineering project that would raise the road up above the wildebeest routes so that people could get to the lake and the wildebeest could get to the Mara beneath it. This is one international issue amongst the many.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

The only important point that I would like to add, is that it should not be an either or, its not a question of the migration or development. The migration is part of development. The economic development of Tanzania is critical to its people. It should not be that we have one or the other. Let us find ways which both can be done together. But let’s not leave it until it’s too late. Let’s not waste money. Let’s get talking now about alternative strategies. And if the costs are going to double, can we justify spending that much money? I would have thought Tanzania could justify it and would get a lot of international backing for saving the wildebeest migration into perpetuity.

Well you heard what Richard Leakey had to say, what do you think? Participate in the conversation, join me, Paula Kahumbu at for more information, maps and opinions about the Serengeti Highway.