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Johan Knols
Blogger, safari specialist, professional wildlife guide (Woerden, Netherlands)

Johan Knols is the owner of the planyoursafari blog. He studied tourism in the Netherlands and has been working in the African tourism industry for nearly 15 years. Starting as lodge manager in the Serengeti in Tanzania, he eventually owned his own mobile safari company in Botswana. Johan received his professional wildlife- guides licence in 1998 and was awarded the title of Honorary Wildlife Officer with the Botswana Wildlife and National Parks authority in 2005. During his time in Africa he has managed upmarket safari lodges and has done overland trips in the luxury and semi-luxury sector. At the moment he is a full-time blogger giving tips and advices on everything related to African safaris.


Human Migration VS Animal Migration (1st Upgrade)

Published 08th June 2010 - 38 comments - 22391 views -

The double edged sword called development

Admiring the rolling hills of the northern Serengeti National Park and seeing the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara River are some of those moments I will never forget. It was a joy to work in a with poachers infested area, to do border patrols and anti-poaching activities. The Serengeti is a very special place.

But today I came across a very disturbing article. The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania will in 2012 receive a new highway that will link the north-western side of the country with the tourism hub of Arusha and beyond, thus making human migration a lot easier.

Great news for Tanzanians living in the district of Serengeti who are almost completely blocked off . They have the Serengeti National Park with its heavy entrance fees on the east, the Kenyan border on the north and Lake Victoria on the west. They can only leave their district in the south, via a small corridor close to Lake Victoria and they have to make a big detour to get anywhere in the country.

But for conservation and wildlife the highway plans are a downright disaster. Especially since an alternative road south of the Serengeti is an option.

The Serengeti and Grumeti

Serengeti National Park and the protected areas on the outside are some of the most famous and most portrayed protected areas on the African continent. Apart from their rich wildlife and stunning landscapes, they are best known for the thundering noise of wildebeest hooves during the wildebeest migration.

The Great Migration, one of the last and biggest animal migrations of the entire planet, is the annual trek of gnus (wildebeests) and zebras in their search for greener pastures and rain, thereby crossing from Tanzania into Kenya and returning a few months later. This migration is ancient and the planned highway is directly in its path.

The migration


For many decades the inhabitants of the Serengeti district of Tanzania’s Mara region had a tough life. The government basically ignored the area while the people became more and more frustrated about being cut off from the rest of the country.

They were not only far from the economical capital Dar es Salaam but also difficult to reach. Living in the this blocked off section of Tanzania had increased poverty and decreased development. Therefore the western side of the Serengeti was rife with poachers and occasionally a tourist camp would get raided. And many were involved, something I could tell from villagers fleeing into their homes when they saw my car and always mistook it for a vehicle from the Wildlife Department.

The situation for those living in the Serengeti district led to an investigative research in 1999, to see if something about their situation could be done.

Two years ago I visited the area again and I stayed in Sabora Tented Camp in the Grumeti Reserve, an area adjoining the Serengeti park in the western corridor and being leased by an American corporation called Grumeti Reserves Ltd. The camp is great as one can call for free anybody in the world (satellite) and the migration can be watched from your bathtub.

The arrival of this company several years back was very important as it pumped huge amounts of money into tourism development and anti-poaching efforts. The company built schools, encouraged small business development and the quality of life for the community improved.

Everybody in the tourism industry, from Kenya to Namibia, spoke about the owner of the company: Paul Tudor Jones, the 369th richest man on the planet in 2007.

He was the man who changed things, who got things moving and who had the well-being of his staff, their families and the communities at heart. He basically started to change this area of Tanzania. He was almost seen as a God and he proved that community involvement is essential and working.

And the Grumeti reserve is en route of the wildebeest migration.

The downside

But like with everything that is almost too good to be true, also now the (wildebeest)shit starts hitting the fan.

The American company came in 2006 up with plans to build an international airport in the region. Besides that it planned to construct a highway that would not only run straight through the Serengeti National Park but would also go through the Loliondo Conservancy on the east, another protected area.

But the plan came under attack in 2007. More research needed to be done and it was clear from day one that the wildlife and especially the wildebeest migration would face negative consequences of these developments.

Amongst those against the proposals were the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments, the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) and national and international organizations.

May 2010

similar road in BotswanaThree weeks ago it was announced that the highway will get under construction in 2012 anyway, despite the overwhelming evidence that the migration routes will get disturbed and that many wildebeest and other animals will die on the road.

What happened? Why did, after all these years, all parties agree to the construction? Why is Tudor Jones so keen on constructing a highway that cuts through the world’s most famous National Park and why is he so keen on that international airport? Is he the big conservationist (or not) that everybody thought he was?

Charity only goes a certain length, after that it starts to smell. After all a highway would make the extremely expensive lodges of the company more accessible and an international airport would only benefit one company: the one building it and exploiting tourism activities in the area.

The overwhelming majority of the people living in the Serengeti district will never have a chance to even see the inside of a plane, but for Jones to be able to fly in with his private jet would be extremely convenient.

So here we are in limbo again.
Should the highway get constructed with wildlife losses being seen as an unavoidable sacrifice to economic development or should we say sorry to the development of the people in the Serengeti district and give the wildebeest migration right of way?

For the time being it seems that the highway will get under construction as declared by President Kikwete himself. He chooses economic development over one of the most important assets of his country: the wildebeest migration.

Is he also ‘shooting’ at what is left?

In case you want to vote against the highway and let your voice be heard, you can sign the petition here.

Upgrade 21-07-2010

After I have seen reports that Mr. Jones is not involved in the construction of the highway, I have contacted his PR and Marketing man of the Singita Group of Lodges on 17-07-2010.
Below I have copied-pasted the statement I received from the company:

Morning Johan,

Thank you for your mail.

I’ve included below Singita’s position on the Serengeti road issue. –

1)      Singita Grumeti Reserves wishes to make it clear that whilst we consider ourselves to be an interested and affected party in this matter, we do not play a role in the Tanzanian national infrastructure policy planning process. This planned road is a Tanzanian Government initiative.

2)      It appears that the southern route, avoiding the Serengeti altogether, is preferable in the interests of the preservation of the wildebeest migration and (provided this is proved to be the case by way of a full EIA study) we agree with the proposal of the FZS which recommends this route.

3)      We reserve making a final position statement until we have seen the details of the environmental impact assessment which evaluates all options.

4)      Paul Tudor Jones and/or Singita Grumeti Reserves has never suggested that he will fund or assist with funding this road .

5)      We support the fact that proper road infrastructure is vital to the improvement in living conditions for the people living in Northern Tanzania and it is a selfish and unproductive view that suggests that the development of the area is undesirable in the interest of conservation alone. The development of the area as a tourist destination is the only long term justification for its continued preservation. The best solution, serving all interests must be the goal.

I’ve also passed your mail on to Mr Tudor Jones’ office for any comment.

All the best James

Today I received another email from James regarding the response from Mr. Jones' office in the USA.

Good morning Johan,

I’ve been in touch with Mr Jones’ office, he fully endorses the statement I passed to you last week and adds that Mr. Jones is in favor of ecologically sensitive upliftment programs for both the Tanzanian people and its wildlife.

All the best to you and thank you for your integrity,

I am disappointed. Especially the last statement from Mr. Jones' office is a declaration that says that 'we go with the flow and will stick to the outcome of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assesment). I had hoped that Mr. Jones would have said: We are not in favour of this road! He does make a feeble attempt by declaring that the company does agree with the (Southern Route) proposal of the FZS. BUT....that the company will only make a final statement after the results of the EIA are known. To me it doesn't look as if Mr. Jones is really against the highway.

But then again, Mr. Jones is a wealthy man with powerful (Tanzanian) friends. It is never a good idea to upset those....







  • Bart Knols on 08th June 2010:

    When the Chinese constructed the TAZARA railway in the 1970s, connecting Dar es Salaam with Zambia’s capital Lusaka, the deal included ivory. Chinese construction workers were allowed to shoot elephants and export the ivory back home. It led to a massive decline in the elephant population of the largest game resserve of Africa, the Selous. It took until recently to see elephants with big tusks again.

    It is hoped that this new highway will not be constructed under similar agreements. And then, rapid access (highway) is a great way to increase poaching, was this taken into consideration? Next, there will be massive cutting of trees that will be turned into charcoal, a problem experienced in Kenya along the highway to the Masai Mara…

    Lastly, when the migration is on, and millions of wildebeest are on the move, how fast will this road really be? Won’t there be continuous obstruction of the road by animals passing?

    One cannot ignore the merits of developing the north-west of Tanzania, but a southern route would seem a much better solution, right?

  • michel on 08th June 2010:

    The petition link is offline?Doesn’t work?

  • Johan Knols on 08th June 2010:


    I received a notice that they are working on the site. Yesterday it was in full swing so please be patient.
    Dank je wel voor je reactie en je hebt een leuke site.

  • michel on 08th June 2010:

    ok ik dacht laat het even weten, zou zonde zijn als mensen niet kunnen stemmen maar wel hun stem willen uitbrengen!

  • Carmen Paun on 08th June 2010:

    Great story Johan!

  • Johan Knols on 08th June 2010:

    Thanks Carmen,

    It would be an absolute disaster if this highway is going to be build. We have seen in the past that highways through national parks don’t work and that the consequences are way too big. But somewhere money is talking in this story and from first hand experience I know that Tanzanians can not resist this.

  • Carmen Paun on 08th June 2010:

    Yes Johan, I figured that out. Is there something that we can do besides signing online petitions?

  • Guy Combes on 08th June 2010:

    So it’s inconvenient for some Tanzanians (or Americans) to be blocked off from other parts of the country. Is this not an incredibly weak argument for this road? When will progress be represented by a human ability to compromise convenience for the greater good of the environment? If this is all about some multimillionaire and a bunch of elitist tourists, then I’m even more confused and sick to my stomach than before…

  • Johan Knols on 08th June 2010:

    Hi Carmen,

    Apart from making yourself world famous and stand in front of the first bulldozers when they start building (think Tiananmin Square), there is not that much you can do. The only open option I see is to emphasise the fact that the Serengeti is a World Heritage Site:
    This has to be stopped somehow.

  • Johan Knols on 08th June 2010:

    Thanks for your comment.
    I agree with you that the argument for building the road is weak. Yet, I am under the believe that we can only solve these kinds of problems if we take the human aspect into consideration.
    And they do if they just build the road south of the Serengeti. Have you signed the petition yet? (if the site is up again).

  • Carmen Paun on 08th June 2010:

    The website is still not working Johan. We should maybe organise a Th!nk 3 bloggers’ reunion in 2012 in Tanzania then, what do you think?

  • Guy Combes on 08th June 2010:

    The site is down temporarily.  I’ve been assured it will be up and running again soon, and will announce it as soon as that happens

  • Mike Rainy on 08th June 2010:



    I’M REMINDED BY A LINE IN ONE OF J.J. CALE’S SONGS - MONEY TALKS -“And you’d be Surprised By the Friends you can by with Small Change.


  • Johan Knols on 08th June 2010:

    Not a bad idea and I still have plenty of contacts there,

    Thanks for updating us.

    For anybody that would like to join the efforts against the highway on Facebook, you can go here:

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 08th June 2010:

    @Bart Knols: Don’t forget that TAZARA is the biggest development aid ($) gave to Africa from Chine…. the back side of development…I didn’t know that case of elephants… although I took a journey by Tazara twice…  thanks.

  • Johan Knols on 08th June 2010:

    Thanks for commenting and linking the article on facebook. I agree, money talks, especially in Tanzania.

    This could be the consequences of the highway in the Serengeti:
    Thanks for commenting.

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 08th June 2010:

    Johan, have you seen this

  • Pieter Kat on 08th June 2010:

    Hi Johan:

    No way can this be true? Hold on, maybe I’m just having a bad dream…

    Unfortunately I just confirmed I am awake. Whatever happened to that rather quaint concept of doing Environmental Impact Assessments before “development” projects go ahead? Whatever happened to donor integrity? Oh wait, is this another Chinese development program? $300 million for a $30 million road project with a lot of overhead spent on Tanzanian politicians and future access to mineral rights?

    But….surely Tanzania has more relevant development aid needs than a road through the Serengeti?

    An international airport? Duty free shopping? McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Gucci shop? The mind boggles - oh wait, how about a casino? Surely Mr Jones knows Mr Trump?

    Bye bye Serengeti, hello Kruger. They already f***ed up the Ngorongoro Crater with their hotels on the rim and a hundred vehicles per day. They already f***ed up the Masai Mara with lodges and camps capable of accommodating close to 3000 people per day.

    I really hope this is a bad dream.

  • Susanna on 08th June 2010:

    Thanks for an interesting blog, Johan. The map needs some changes though. As I’ve understood it, the new construction would run from Mto wa Mbu to Engaruka on to Lake Natron, Loliondo, Serengeti and Musoma.

    I’d also change “Loliondo Conservancy” to “Loliondo Game Controlled Area” and “Serengeti District” to “Mara Region”.

  • Johan Knols on 08th June 2010:


    Thanks for commenting.
    This ‘development’ is one of the type ‘very worrysome’.
    It seems that, although East Africa is making progress on the tourism front, that still a lot of shady dealing is going on. As can be seen from the situation in the Maasai Mara region in Kenya where a lot of lodges didn’t even have a license to operate: sued over illegal lodges in park /-/1056/903986/-/14lolt8z/-/index.html
    Lets hope this highway will never see the light of day.

  • Johan Knols on 09th June 2010:

    @ Pieter
    Sorry for the link not working. sued over illegal lodges in park /-/1056/903986/-/14lolt8z/-/index.html

    Thanks for commenting and although it was a map with a rough indication where the new road will be build (after all it is the section in the Serengeti and Loliondo that is most important) I will make a new map, since you are right about where the road will start (according to the plans).
    Thanks for making the info accurate.

  • Menno on 10th June 2010:

    It’s a crying disgrace to violate one of the most beautiful national parks in the world with this highway. Once Tanzania was the leading country concerning nature protection. And now? Do they smell money? TO ALL OF YOU: SIGN THE PETITION!

  • Johan Knols on 11th June 2010:

    Hi Menno,

    I agree with the fact that they were very conservation minded before. But money corrupts even the best of politicians, so we have to see what will happen to the highway.
    If you want to follow an active group on FaceBook against the highway:!/pages/STOP-THE-SERENGETI-HIGHWAY/125601617471610?ref=ts
    Thanks for commenting.

  • Clare Herbert on 12th June 2010:

    Another really interesting post, Johan. Ultimately, I think the road is the most moral choice to make. Keeping people poor to save the lives of animals would not be an option in the developed world, and it’s only fair to apply the same principle to developing countries. Just my opinion.

  • Johan Knols on 13th June 2010:

    Hi Clare,
    The road is indeed the most moral choice to make. But not THROUGH the Serengeti. There is an alternative route via the south. The road would be longer (and therefore more expensive) but the result would be the same.
    You touch on a very interesting topic…if we have to apply the same principles everywhere on the planet, where and when do we start to make changes? We have depleted a lot of our own wildlife. But does this now mean that we can’t tell others not to make the same mistake?

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 13th June 2010:

    Please allow me to interrupt into this discussion, Johan.

    I have signed the petition and am following the Stop the Serengeti Highway group on fb. Such a shame projects like this are still possible. I’m thinking, though, what if there was no alternative route? Should we put human migration in the first place, leaving animals to sort things out for themselves? My answer would be no. Human species has disturbed other species enough already, and if there were a nature trial on species rights, ours’d get 1,000 life sentences, or, if only animals were the jury, a death penalty straight away.

    In addition, as far as I understand, the highway and the airport would mainly serve only one company, only one rich pocket. Although I have no evidence, but this “development” of the local people might be just a scam, created in order to justify the project. I agree with Guy Combes’s comment above. A greater good, not some lousy weak “arguments” at the cost of wildlife. We don’t own the planet, no matter how hard we convinced ourselves we do.

  • Johan Knols on 14th June 2010:


    1.The good thing in this case is that there IS an alternative.
    2.The second question you bring forward (if human migration should come before animal migration? ) is a difficult one. If we want to save what is left of our biodiversity, we have to take the human factor into account. If people of Africa have the feeling that wildlife is more important than them, the poaching and illegal trade will continue as never before.
    3.Of course the arguments in this particular case might be wrong and just an excuse. That is why so many people (on fb now 3401)are getting involved. I also see that the bigger news agencies are starting to pick up the story. Long live the web 2.0!

    Lastly, a strong reaction on your last sentence.
    We should start to realize that we DO OWN the planet. Because people have the tendency to look a lot better after something they own than what they not own. Agree?

  • Clare Herbert on 14th June 2010:

    @ Johan: Exactly. To preach that developing communities should not damage their habitats is a little rich coming from developed economies who thrive on exploiting the planet. A road avoiding the Serengeti seems like the best option, but it’s ultimately up to Tanzanians to make that call.

  • Johan Knols on 14th June 2010:


    The question is if the Tanzanians should make that call. They have other priorities on their plates. We, as in potential tourists, should have an impact on the decision makers.
    The guys who are pulling the strings know how to deal with the Tanzanians. So we should make noise. I mean NOISE.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 14th June 2010:

    I agree with you up to a point on this one, Johan.

    Yes if we do believe we own the planet, maybe we’d look better after it. This can be illustrated by dog owners e.g. in my hometown Vilnius, who pick up their waste if it’s in their garden, but leave it in the communal yard because they don’t feel they own it and therefore get rid of any responsibility quite easily. Might seem as an unrelated example, but hey, the principle is the same and I get your point.

    However, what I have in mind is our species acting as if we were the gods, the kings and all other sort of power by default, defining the rules of the game for everyone and punishing those who don’t wanna play by them. Dear elephant, if you don’t like the road, I’m afraid you have to go, that kind of thinking.

    As for the alternative route - this is great! That is the way to go then, a compromise for everyone. On your second point, again I imagine a compromise is needed. If the situation is put not as humans v. animals, but humans for the well-being of both humans and animals, then maybe Tanzanians wouldn’t see themselves as being rejected and put behind animals, don’t you think?

  • Bart Knols on 15th June 2010:

    @Giedre. Yes - I agree entirely with your last point. A more comprehensive view on development that includes both man and the environment is more likely to succeed than a forceful this or that…

  • Johan Knols on 15th June 2010:


    The answer to your question is a full ‘yes’.
    But the problem is bigger. As I said to Clare, how can we expect people to choose for the environment if they are unemployed, undernourished and tucked away in a corner of the country?
    Putting the focus on wildlife means that we are in a luxury position, because we can afford to be busy with things that don’t belong to our primary needs.

  • Bart Knols on 15th June 2010:

    @Johan. What an insigtful comment (ha ha)... see the pyramid of need story:

  • Clare Herbert on 15th June 2010:

    @ Johan: You’re right. We do have a voice that we neglect to use. When people are suffering, we are obligated to stand up for their rights. Really interesting discussion here.

  • Anthea on 17th June 2010:

    Thanks Johan for posting this - its shocking the short-sightedness!!  I have signed the petition.

  • Johan Knols on 17th June 2010:


    Thanks for signing!

  • Johan Knols on 21st July 2010:

    After some email correspondence I have updated the post.

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