Surpassing Wildebeests, Zebras Hold New Record for Longest Migration

Great Zebra Migration

In the grasslands and floodplains of southern Africa, conservationists have observed a 300-mile (500 kilometers) zebra migration — the longest known trek of any land mammal on the continent.

The discovery in the wild Africa provides a surprising glimpse at how wildlife endure even amid declining populations of species around the world, the researchers said.

“We’re living in an age where the great migrations are declining,” said Robin Naidoo, a researcher for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the lead author of the new study. “Songbirds in the United States are not migrating like they used to. Large mammals in south[ern] Africa are declining. It’s fascinating to discover this one migration that nobody’s known about until now, and especially in such a well-known, well-studied animal.”

For the study, published by the journal Oryx, Naidoo and his team tracked eight female Burchell’s zebras (Equus quagga burchellii) for two consecutive years using GPS collars. The eight zebras belonged to a population of thousands that made the trek back and forth between Namibia and Botswana over several months. The zebras traveled a total of 300 miles, tracing a natural migratory route marked by wet or dry seasons, food supply and water — a route that the authors said could be “ancient.”

The zebras spent the October dry season along the Chobe River before starting to move south into Botswana as the days became rainy. What surprised the researchers most was that the zebras traveled on a straight path. This direct point-to-point journey surpasses the distance traveled by the previous record holders for the longest land migration: the mammals of the Serengeti.

During the Serengeti migration, wildebeests, gazelles, zebras and other large land mammals travel from Tanzania’s Serengeti to the Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya. Though the Serengeti the animals travel 500 miles (800 km). This migration occurs every year and the the mammals mainly the wildebeests meander and circle backward, making the point-to-point distance traveled shorter than the trek made by the Burchell’s zebras in southern Africa.

Today’s direst threats to wildlife migration include the construction of guarded borders between countries, and railroad tracks and highways that block animal movements and change their environments. A 2011 study published in Oryx described a 15,000-year-old zebra migration in Botswana that had vanished after the construction of fences in 1968, but emerged again in 2004 when the fences were removed.

Animal migrations have declined due to a number of factors! The construction of fences along the parks as well as paved roads have affected the animal movements! Human intervention has been the major stumbling block that has made animals change their migration patterns!

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