SERENGETI HIGHWAY SUGGESTIONS BY RICHARD LEAKEY CALLED LUNATIC EXPRESS 2.0
Hitherto respected conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey earned himself howls of laughter, mockery and acid comments from around the world, when – beware the power of the internet – his suggestions to build an elevated highway across the Serengeti became more widely known and went viral among Serengeti supporters.
Leakey apparently repeated comments made much earlier already but quickly hushed up at the time, in a speech in the United States last week, that he felt an elevated highway across the Serengeti’s migration routes would be a viable solution. Leakey was quoted to have said during an international conference on poaching and wildlife related crimes at the Rutgers University ‘It would be a grand spectacle, to see animals migrating by underneath, and signal Africa’s commitment to wildlife. If I can drive over 30 miles of elevated highways in New Jersey, why not in the Serengeti?. Leakey then reportedly went on to accuse all and sundry to ‘Talk, Talk, Talk’ but failed to acknowledge that a viable and financeable option had been presented to the Tanzanian government by, among others, the German government and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, to build a road around the southern edges of the park instead of insisting to build a highway across the main migration routes of the Serengeti.
Leakey was saying that the cost of an elevated highway would only be 40 percent higher than a regular highway, clearly exposing a serious deficit in knowledge and understanding of the topographical situation of the route proposed by the Tanzanian government as well as the soil composition along the route, mainly the notorious black cotton soil. This soil type would require massive steel reinforced concrete pylons to be anchored very deep into the ground to avoid shifts of the structure when the soil gets soaked during the rainy season. Leakey also forgot to say how motorists, while driving, were to enjoy the views he proposed for the ‘grand spectacle’ safely, without driving over the rails and crashing into the migrating animals, unless he had the creation of major stopping points, perhaps including elevated restaurants and even hotels as found along European highways in mind, something environmentalist and truly committed conservationists would have a lot more to say about.
www.savetheserengeti.org, a conservation pressure group with more than 51.500 followers on their Facebook page, had in 2011 undertaken a study to show that significantly more people and population centres would be served by a southern road solution, but big mining business appears to insist on a direct access route connecting concession areas between the Serengeti and Lake Victoria with a route to the coast, dubbed by this correspondent as the ‘Corridor of Destruction’. (http://atcnews.org/2011/05/01/tanzania-conservation-breaking-news-the-corridor-of-destruction-from-the-coast-to-the-lake/).
One regular conservation source from Arusha immediately called the proposal ‘Leakey’s Lunatic Express’ while another, almost at the same time, had similar sentiments when calling it ‘Lunatic Express Reloaded 2.0’. ‘This is not a compromise. A costed compromise has been on the table when the data for a southern route was put to the TZ government. This is a lunacy and Leakey has done himself and his reputation no favours here. The cost, for one, would be massive and because of soil and topography a multiple of what a surface highway would cost. The Serengeti is not Jersey with flat surfaces. This is a hilly area, dissected by dry river beds, and the soft soil would require very very deep foundations. To top it, this is an earthquake prone area, so the construction would have to take this into account, driving the cost up even more. Not Leakey’s finest hour I must say’ did a source wishing to remain unnamed write in response to a request for a comment, since the news broke last Thursday. According to other conservation sources in Tanzania, requests for clarification to the Leakey Foundation went unanswered, at least by the time of uploading this article, though there is clearly little they can say in mitigation, unless their principal would be ready to withdraw his ill considered off the cuff remarks.
In comparison, the new Gotthard tunnel, the world’s longest, took the Swiss, experts in tunnel highways, some 15 years to complete at a cost of over 20 billion US Dollars, and covers a length of some 54 kilometres, a distance similar to the crossing of the Serengeti – this being said in case other brainiacs come up and try to float the tunnel version under the migration paths once again. The Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania had, in earnest, proposed a tunnel version in July 2011, giving the cost and technical challenges of their proposal apparently as little thought as Leakey now did with his elevated highway talk.
Meanwhile has the Tanzanian government made no binding firm commitments to spare the Serengeti of the highway, other than vaguely say it would build a gravel road, not a paved highway – for now that is – and has equally failed to conclusively state that the planned railway route from Tanga to a newly planned port at Musoma / Lake Victoria, would NOT run in parallel with the initially proposed highway route.
Much fodder for thought again in a fight which can only be equated to a fight of good and evil, or dark and bright forces, the good guys being the ones to preserve the Serengeti as the UNESCO World Heritage Site it is and honouring the Tanzanian nation’s founding father’s commitment to Prof. Grzimek of ‘Serengeti Must Not Die’ fame to preserve the Serengeti for future generations. Watch this space.