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Iconic Serengeti Park is Disappearing

May 22, 2015 05:39 PM EDT
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The Serengeti National Park has long been one of the world's most iconic ecosystems, home to giraffes and many other animals, and now new research shows that it is disappearing.

Serengeti may mean "endless plains" in the Maasai language, but it may not be endless for long thanks to pressures from factors that include climate change, population growth and land development.

Serengeti National Park in Tanzania extends into Kenya towards the Mau Forest, the largest virgin montane forests of Africa. The Mara River, which originates in the Mau Forest, is the lifeblood of the entire ecosystem of the national park. Together the Mara River, the Mau Forest and the Serengeti constitute one of the world's most complex ecosystems, and they support a great diversity of fauna and birdlife, as well as special and rare plants.

The region also provides vital resources such as water, food for animals and humans, wood for fuel and construction, and land that can be cultivated.

"Everything we harvest from nature are services that the ecosystem services provides us. These resources are deteriorating little by little, and what we see in the Serengeti is that the pressures on the ecosystem can become so large that that they are no longer sustainable. In the worst case, the Serengeti could disappear completely in a few decades," Eivin Røskaft, a professor of biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, climate change is a major factor that is causing the Serengeti to disappear. With the climate warming in recent years, the region's wet season has shifted, its dry season has lasted longer, and its rains have become more powerful, resulting in soil erosion and washouts. All these factors combined create challenges for vegetation, animals and humans in the area.

Speaking of humans, the fact that residents of the area live close to the park and are completely dependent on it for their livelihood makes the Serengeti especially vulnerable. And with population growth, the number of locals is only expected to increase. For comparison, in 1961 Tanzania had 8,000,000 inhabitants, whereas today the number is 50,000,000, and will likely double in the next 20 years.

Population growth results in an increased need for food, hunting on Serengeti lands, and more livestock, which puts more pressure on pasturelands.

On top of which, forests in the Serengeti are being cut down to make way for land development and infrastructure. In fact, builders plan to develop a road that will run right through the national park and cross the well-known wildebeest migration route, a major concern among conservationists.

And while many international organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) can potentially influence what happens in the Serengeti, at this rate it seems likely that this iconic ecosystem will disappear in our lifetime.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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