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The Zebra Migration: Africa's longest land migration

By Martha Hales

Anyone who has more than a passing interest in African wildlife will have heard of the Great Migration: the spectacle of vast numbers of grazing animals moving through the plains of Africa in search of fresh pasture. The herds most famously include wildebeest but also eland, gazelle and zebra in their millions. Zoologists were carrying out a study of certain aspects of this migration in 2014, and part of their research involved tagging zebras with GPS trackers to monitor their movements. This tracking brought them some unexpected results when they discovered that the zebras were covering far more ground than they thought... In fact they had inadvertently discovered Africa’s longest land migration.

Burchell's zebra in Botswana

The zebra herds moving from Tanzania’s Ngorongoro area into Kenya’s Masai Mara as part of the Great Migration actually take more steps as their route is circuitous, but the herds of zebra that were discovered to be migrating between Namibia and Botswana make the longest journey in terms of distance between start and finish points.

Starting out from the Chobe river area of the Okavango Delta on the border of Botswana and Namibia, up to 25,000 animals set off annually in November and December to head south in search of fresh grazing. They finish their journey some weeks later around the Nxai Pan National Park and Boteti River, where they tend to stay until around March and April, when they retrace their steps back to the northern grasslands.

Zebra fighting in Nxai Pan National Park

The entire migration covers more than 500 kilometres, the longest land migration known in Africa. What is fascinating scientists further is that it appears that the migration is so hardwired into the Burchell’s zebra that even though they have to pass other suitable areas with plentiful water and food en route, they still continue to the destination of their ancestors. This proves that for this species at least, migration routes are learnt and copied diligently, even when the opportunity for a more efficient route presents itself.

Luckily for these zebras, the entire migration takes place within a transnational protected zone, known as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). There have been cases where long distance migrations have been curtailed, often for decades, by fences or changes in land use. Fortunately for the hardy Burchell’s zebra, this route remains clear and will be for the foreseeable future.

Zebra migrating in Namibia

If you hope to see this epic migratory spectacle for yourself, the vast majority of miles covered fall in Botswana. December is the major month for the herds to travel south, and our safari experts in the region will know day to day where to find large numbers of zebra mid-migration. The herds tend to spend some weeks in their more southerly territory before they set off to travel north again from March into April, so those are the four main months to consider. In Namibia, throngs of Zebra arrive in the Caprivi Strip region surrounding the Chobe river in April after their trip south, and stay until they move on again in December, so consider basing yourself in this area for part of your Namibian adventure.

Zebra in Etosha National Park

Make it happen

Take some time to get back to nature in Africa’s beautiful wildernesses. Our local experts in Namibia and Botswana can put together a trip according to your requirements, so if you would like to see this remarkable, recently discovered migration for yourself they will take care of the details. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.