Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Zebras Recorded Making the Longest Migratory Trek in Africa

Zebras running through a waterhole in northern Namibia.

Earth is known to contain a wide variety of phenomenons related to nature. One of these natural phenomenons are migrations of different species of animals. When most people think of migrations involving animals, it is usually believed that such movements are carried out according to seasonal changes. This is true in some cases, particularly migratory birds in which some species embark on an arduous journey that covers a vast expanse from north to south and back. However, there are also other factors that contribute to migration among animals. One of these factors is the human encroachment on habitats, which is increasingly leading species to extinction. This example of migration was recently discovered by wildlife experts in the case of a 500-kilometer migratory journey made by 2,000 zebras traveling between Namibia and Botswana. The recently discovered migration occurred within the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which covers national parks in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It began in floodplains near the Namibia-Botswana border at the start of the wet season, followed a route across the Chobe River, and ended at the waterholes and grasslands of the Nxai Pan National Park. The zebras spent roughly ten weeks there before returning back to Namibia. Local conservationists and residents knew that the zebras had left the floodplains of the Chobe River and returned months later during the dry season, but did not know where they went.

A study indicated that this newly discovered migration is a rare bright spot when mass movements of wildlife are disappearing due to fencing, land occupations, and other pressures caused by humans. According to Robin Naidoo, a senior conservation scientist at World Wildlife Fund who led a two-year study on the migration, the lack GPS tracking technology made it difficult to know where the zebras were going thus indicating why the migration was not detected earlier. With the affordability and availability of GPS tracking system in the last twenty years, scientists and researchers were able to keep track of animals via migration or otherwise. In the case of these zebras, researchers were able to discover this massive migration after fitting eight zebras with satellite-tracking collars and monitoring their movements in late 2012 and 2013. The data was published in the conservation journal Oryx. The research also indicated that a fence blocking a zebra migratory route since the late 1960s was removed in another part of Botswana in 2004. Since then, some 15,000 zebras traveled the reopened route in the 2008-2009 period. The information about this mass migration is now in the process of being made useful. For example, Tony Sinclair, an expert on the world-famous Serengeti migration, stated that that the zebra research indicates that the animals have to move through lands dominated by people and that the migration could be lost if more protective measures are not implemented. He wrote in an email that people whose land is crossed by the long migration route may acquire motivations to protect it "with some innovative thinking", such as by hooking into tourism.

It is absolutely extraordinary to see what surprises nature has to offer through studies conducted by scientists and researchers. However, it is also important to understand the factors contributing to such spectacles. For example, in the case of this zebra migration, research has revealed that the reason the zebras migrated in such vast distances was due to the increased encroachment by humans for generations. The migration of Africa's animals was and still is best documented in East Africa's Serengeti, where wildebeests probably cover more ground by means of meandering and traveling in greater numbers than zebras. However, zebras in southern Africa travel in a straight line and the distance between their departure and destination is an average of six to twelve miles further than in the Serengeti. The recent research of this zebra migration in southern Africa indicates that the animals may cross through areas occupied by people, and that could spell trouble between people and animals. This is why it is crucial to educate the public about the importance of coexisting with such animals peacefully and implement stronger methods to protecting the wildlife. There is much to be learned about this zebra migration and longstanding research is required to affirm if it is annual and "whether this is genetically summarized and passed behaviorally to the offspring."

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