On 15 February 2010, the State Party submitted a detailed report on the state of conservation of Serengeti National Park. The report provides the following information on the issues raised by the Committee in its Decision 33 COM 7B.10.
a) Water Resource Management
The State Party reports that significant progress has been made towards formulating transboundary policies on the sustainable use of the Mara River. Three key documents have recently been prepared and will form a strong basis to draft such policies in the near future including: i) an Environmental Flows Assessment (EFA) of the Mara River commissioned by WWF, which sets thresholds for maximum levels of abstraction for both Tanzania and Kenya; ii) a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Mara River Basin; and iii) a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for the area. Both the EFA and SEA have been adopted by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission of the East African Community, while the BAP has been provisionally adopted.
With respect to the request by the World Heritage Committee to carry out and submit the Environmental Impact Assessment studies for the abstraction of water from Bologonja Springs for the Bilila Lodge, the State Party notes that this plan was abandoned and that instead three deep boreholes, in line with the policy in place within the Tanzania National Parks, were drilled after detailed hydrological surveys were undertaken which concluded that the aquifers in the Lodge area had sufficient capacity. The State Party considers that as a result of these recent developments, the Environmental Impact Assessment of expanded use of the Bologonja Springs is unnecessary. However, due to the scarcity of water resources in the property, the State Party is seeking technical and financial assistance for water resources studies within the property, and will submit a request for assistance to the World Heritage Committee.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the progress achieved by the State Party, in collaboration with the Kenyan Government and WWF’s East Africa Programme, towards formulating clear water resource management policies for the Mara River. It is crucial that sustainable water management policies are put in place as quickly as possible by building on the existing Environmental Flows Assessment and the other key documents noted above. IUCN recalls that the main causes of decreased flow of the Mara River include deforestation in Kenya, high river sediment load from erosion, and over-extraction of water. These impacts, combined with the likely effects of climate change, could potentially lead to prolonged droughts and, in the worst case scenario, stop the Mara River’s water flow and compromise the Serengeti’s iconic migration.
b) Potential impact of optical cables’ installation
The report confirms that the optical cables, which were originally planned to traverse the property, have been rerouted outside its boundaries along existing major telecommunication infrastructure.
c) Potential extension of the property to include Speke Gulf
The State Party notes that adding the c. 96 km2 Speke Gulf area to the property is considered of utmost importance due to its function as an alternative water source for the property’s animals during times of drought. A position paper has been prepared and submitted to the Board of Trustees of Tanzania National Parks (the managing authority for the property). The State Party notes that the World Heritage Centre and IUCN will be contacted for assistance on this issue, who strongly support this proposed extension as it is important for maintaining the value and integrity of the property over the long-term.
Other conservation issues:
d) Plans to build a North Road through the property
In early November 2009, the World Heritage Centre was informed about plans to build a road to the northern part of the property. On November 12, a letter was sent to the State Party, expressing its concerns about the project and recalling the need to submit an EIA to the World Heritage Centre before a decision on implementing the project is taken. A reply was received dated 11 February 2010 and additional information on this issue was also submitted in the State Party report. Both clarify that the proposed North Road would be part of the 452 Km Natta-Mugumu-Tabora ’B’-Kleins-Loliondo-Mto wa Mbu tarmac road, and traverse the northern section of Serengeti National Park for 53 Km. The road is a nationally prioritised project and is part of the Government’s 10 year Transport Sector Improvement Programme (2002-2012), which the State Party considers justified as the construction will enable the economic development of the Lake Zone circuit. The report highlights that the 53 km stretch within the Serengeti would be a gravel and not a tarmac road. To date, only a preliminary feasibility study and a preliminary EIA have been undertaken, which concluded that the road is feasible and that its negative environmental impacts can be mitigated. The report notes that a 15 member multi-disciplinary committee, including representatives of the Tanzania National Parks, has been created to advise the Government on the project. The State Party notes that the final detailed EIA report will be provided to the World Heritage Centre as soon as it becomes available.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are seriously concerned by this project, which will dissect the northern wilderness area of the Serengeti, a critical habitat for some of the most endangered species present in the property, such as the Black Rhinoceros and the Wild Hunting Dog. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that, if built, the North Road could critically impact the property’s Outstanding Universal Value and justify its inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger. They recall that the North Road proposal was originally submitted to the World Bank twenty years ago. It underwent an EIA in 1996 which concluded that “A trunk road open to commercial traffic through Serengeti National Park should not be implemented due to its substantial negative environmental impacts.” The EIA further noted that the North Road would “...prejudice the survival of several rare and endemic species of plants and animals and may cause mortality of migratory species.”
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the negative environmental impacts of the North Road would include: i) restriction on animal movements and migration routes; ii) direct wildlife mortality; iii) habitat fragmentation and modification; iv) increased impact from human activities, including poaching; v) hydrological impacts and soil erosion; and vi) introduction of exotic species. Moreover, if the road were built, the high number of resulting vehicle-wildlife collisions would lead to consideration of fencing as a mitigation measure, which would create a barrier to the migration of wildebeest and other animals seeking the Mara River, their only water source in the dry season. IUCN notes that road construction is recorded as leading to major impacts and losses of migratory routes in other Protected Areas. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that feasible and less environmentally damaging alternatives to the North Road exist, such as the South Road proposal.
e) Visitor management
The State Party notes that visitor numbers and distribution within the property remain a major management challenge, and that the exact visitor carrying capacity for the Serengeti has been difficult to determine without a comprehensive study. The State Party further notes that it will seek external assistance from other State Parties, as well as the IUCN and the World Heritage Centre, to build internal capacity. A comprehensive review of the Tourism Management Programme is underway to address emerging tourism challenges and to better foster sustainable tourism management. This revised programme will be submitted to the World Heritage Centre, as soon as it is approved.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the State Party’s initiative in seeking assistance but recommend that the revised Program be submitted prior to approval so that they may better advise the State Party. They also recall that any plans for further visitor facility developments should be shared with the World Heritage Centre prior to granting planning permission to these.
f) Increasing poaching pressure
IUCN is concerned by reports suggesting a significant increase in rhinoceros and elephant poaching within Serengeti National Park. Furthermore, IUCN has also received reports that bushmeat poaching, including snaring associated with the movement of wildebeest migration, is also on the rise. This increase in poaching pressure was not reported by the State Party. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the State Party ensures transparent recording of elephant poaching incidents and carcass ratios in elephant censuses to help track any increase in poaching and allow for intervention measures and recommend undertaking a study to better understand offtake.
g) Invasive species
IUCN recalls that it has received reports on invasive species, including Agremone mexicana and Datura stramonium and that while they have not significantly impacted the values of the property to date, early action should be taken to remove these species and avoid risk of further spread and increased removal cost.