Safari haven faces new threat

Jackman, Brian

15 April 2006

Book ID 886

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Jackman, Brian Safari haven faces new threat, 15 April 2006
Extract Author: Brian Jackman
Extract Date: 15 April 2006

Safari haven faces new threat

Plans to build a luxury 300-bed safari lodge on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania have dismayed conservationists and tour operators, who fear the area will be unable to cope with more tourist vehicles.

Encircled by walls 2,000ft high and measuring 11 miles in diameter, the crater is the floor of a collapsed volcano and home to animals that include rare black rhinos and lions.

In 1981 Unesco listed it as a World Heritage Site, with the adjoining Serengeti national park. In all, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area covers more than 300 square miles of forest and savannah, including Empakaai Crater and the active volcano of Ol Donyo Lengai.

There are already four large safari lodges around the crater rim, from which visitors are taken on daily game drives. In recent years, as tourism to Tanzania has grown, problems caused by the number of visitors have reached crisis point, with game-viewing tracks crumbling under the weight of four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Nigel Vere Nichol, the chief executive of the African Travel and Tourism Association, which represents most of Britain's safari holiday companies, said: "Tanzania has an impressive conservation record, and it would be a great shame if it strayed from this path. Ngorongoro Crater is already finding it hard to cope. Building yet another hotel can only make it worse. The infrastructure simply won't support it."

Tim Best, the managing director of Tim Best Travel, which specialises in holidays to Tanzania, added: "I haven't heard about this, but if it's true, I'm appalled. I wouldn't have thought it was sustainable at all. I can only hope the plans get rejected."

To date, pricing has proved the most effective means of controlling visitor numbers. This year the levy imposed on all vehicles entering the crater was raised tenfold, from $10 (�5.70) to $100. However, the only exit road is so badly eroded it is almost impassable.

Many game-viewing tracks have been closed in an attempt to protect animals from constant harassment, but this has forced more vehicles on to fewer roads, creating slow-moving convoys and causing the roads to deteriorate faster.

Another proposal to alleviate the pressure was to restrict visitors to half-day tours only. Tour operators overwhelmingly opposed this, saying it would only encourage drivers to rush around the crater.

Unesco, the organisation responsible for creating World Heritage Sites, is aware of the hotel proposals and is helping Dar es Salaam University to carry out an environmental impact assessment on behalf of the (unnamed) developers.

Last year the World Heritage Committee commended the Tanzanian government on its efforts to conserve the crater but expressed its concern over heavy tourist pressure and vehicle congestion.

Yusufu Kashangwa, director of the Tanzanian Tourist Board, when asked about the planned new lodge, said: "Any investment must abide by government policies, which have to take concerns for the environment and our national heritage into account. Ngorongoro is one of seven World Heritage Sites in Tanzania, and we have to abide by Unesco's guidelines if these sites are to retain their status."

In 1984 the crater was placed on Unesco's list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, owing to poaching and illegal agricultural encroachment.Crowded already: safari trucks at a watering hole in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Extract ID: 5129