Map by Shem Oirer/ENR Art Department
Tanzania's planned 480-kilometer highway project includes a 53-km section cutting through Serengeti National Park.

A recent court ruling clearing the way for a legal challenge to Tanzania's delayed plans for a 53-kilometer road across the world-famous Serengeti National Park has endangered the proposed project's construction.

The regional East Africa Court of Justice (EACJ) ruled, in August, that because the Serengeti National Park is located within both Tanzania and Kenya, the court has the jurisdiction to hear the complaint by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, which originally filed the suit in December 2010. In traversing the park, the proposed stretch of road, designed to link eastern and western Tanzania, would cross migration routes of some two million wildebeests. The 53-km-long section would be part of a $480-million, 480-km road project.

Justice James Ogola said environmental conservation is enshrined in the East African Community Treaty, which guides a regional intergovernmental organization that includes Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

"The court has jurisdiction to hear environment disputes which directly affect the ecosystem and touch on the sustainable utilization of the natural resources, including terrestrial ecosystems," Ogola said. "This is a regional issue and an eye-opener to activists and conservation experts to come out and vindicate issues of environmental abuse in the region."

In 2011, Tanzania responded to international concerns about the project's potential impact on the Serengeti park, designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, by changing a 120-km section of the planned highway to gravel from pavement. At that time, Ezekiel Maige, the country's minister of tourism and natural resources, said the project "will not have a big impact on wildlife."

The EACJ has not yet determined a date for the case to proceed.