The longest land mammal migration in Africa is undertaken by Plains zebras, researchers have discovered.
The Plains, or Burchell’s zebras, undertake a migration which stretches from Namibia to Botswana — a round trip of more than 300 miles.
The discovery of the previously undocumented migration was made in groundbreaking research by a World Wildlife Fund team. Their findings were published in the online journal, Oryx
The migration, which the researchers say appears to occurr annually, involves several thousand zebra travelling north-south.
It occurs entirely within a region known as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA).
“The findings of this study emphasize the importance of trans-frontier conservation areas in conservation of the greater landscape,” said Pierre Du Preez, the chief conservation scientist with Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
“This study has played a crucial role in helping determine a crucial wildlife corridor in KAZA.”
The research team, lead by the World Wildlife Fund’s Robin Naidoo, fitted eight female zebras with satellite collars to monitor their movements.
Females were used because they travelled in herds and were gentler on the collars than males.
The GPS tracking technology allowed researchers to get exact location fixes for each zebra every 4-5 hours during the journey.
The zebra complete the first half of the trip over two to three weeks in November and December, probably in search of fresh grazing in Botswana’s Nxai Pan National Park.
The rainy season’s ample rainfall allows the zebra to thrive away from permanent water sources for an average of 10 weeks before they return to the Chobe River along the Namibia/Botswana border for the dry season.
Beyond the record distance logged, the findings are significant as they confirm the need to preserve this stretch of land for migratory use.
Zebra migration routes in other parts of Afrcia have been disrupted, often by fence construction. As a result, zebra populations diminish and local economies that depend on ecotourism may suffer.
The researchers said the study showed these animals needed large, wide open spaces in order to survive and protected areas the size of KAZA made that possible.
Naidoo said: “In the same way that we’re concerned with saving numbers of species and habitats, we should also be concerned with conserving phenomena that are inspiring spectacles in the world of nature. Mass migrations are one of those.”
The researchers, in concluding their study, said: “In a human-dominated world in which wildlife migrations are disappearing, the discovery of a previously undocumented migration of zebras across hundreds of kilometres and over international borders provides hope that the conservation of large-scale ecological phenomena, among other biodiversity conservation goals, continues to be a worthwhile pursuit …”
The full study can be read here.