There is another migration in Africa, that is not as popular as its East African cousin, but is no less of a spectacle. This happens in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi plains and Nxai pan national parks and this was not discovered very long ago. Read on for more.
Discovered only recently, Botswana’s zebra migration is a bi-annual wildlife spectacle that is relatively unknown to the world. This is the second-largest zebra migration in the world, with more than 30,000 zebras making the journey from Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi plains in search of fresh grazing. The first migration occurs when the zebras move from north to south, and the second one when the zebras make their journey back north. These animals walk over 500 kilometres, in tune with the seasons and rainfall. One interesting point to note is that despite numbering more than 30,000, this is only 55% of the zebra population that makes the journey; the other 45% chooses to stay in the Okavango area for the entire year.
Northern Botswana comprises of the fertile deltas of the Okavango and Chobe rivers. The zebras travel to this region during the dry season to enjoy the sprawling wetlands, flowing rivers, and fertile land. When the dry season comes to an end around November, they begin to move towards the south towards the interior of the Kalahari Desert, following the same routes their ancestors been taking for thousands of years. This suggests that zebras harbour memory of ancient routes that seem to be genetically encoded. During this time, they also venture towards Makgadikgadi Salt pans that are bursting with vegetation.
In the late 1960s, an agreement was signed between Botswana and European Union under which Botswana would supply cattle to the latter. One of the conditions of this agreement was that Botswana would need to take immediate steps to avoid the transmission of foot-and-mouth disease amongst animals. As a result, Botswana erected a vast system of fences to separate the livestock from other animals and predators. This move led to disastrous consequences, as the fences restricted movement of various animals. Animals kept dying in the thousands, and species like zebras, wildebeest, and other herbivores were worst affected. A decision was made to remove these fences. In the mid-2000s, scientists discovered that the zebras resumed their ancient migratory patterns. With the help of tracking equipment, they discovered two major migratory movements of these animals, that mostly comprised inaccessible routes that hadn’t been tracked before. With the resurgence of these migrations, scientists believe that the ecology of this system can be improved.
The newly discovered migrations are also having a positive impact on Botswana’s tourism industry, and consequently its economy.
Where to view this spectacle
The best places to view these migrations from are Chobe National Park in the north and Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in the south. The best time to witness these migrations in full swing is in the offseason when it rains heavily. During this time, most of the tourists leave Botswana, so the area is relatively empty. It is the perfect time to view these animals making their way across the muddy plains. While the area does get muddy and a little perilous during this time, it’s still the best opportunity to enjoy this migration, and especially so if you come fully prepared. It’s recommended to travel with a guide, or on an organized tour, so that you have the best chances of spotting wildlife, and you have the best knowledge about the area.
For most of the year, the Makgadikgadi pans are dry, harsh, and arid. But during rains, the whole area gets revitalized and becomes ideal for grazing by December. The wide views of the beautiful landscape make for amazing viewing opportunities, as vast herds of zebra roam the lands. It is quite common to see predators prowling the area as well; the zebras make for excellent food. To access the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, you can begin in the neighbouring town of Gweta, where you can get lodging and 4×4 tours. The other, more adventurous option is to participate in close-up overnight views to truly enjoy this spectacle. Several luxurious sites, with their own private airstrips, offer excellent accommodation options. You can spend the nights under the beautiful starry sky, and depart early morning for a zebra-spotting safari.
The most popular locations in Makgadikgadi are Meno a Kwena camp and Jacks Camp, located along the banks of the Boteti River. Other accommodation camps located strategically to provide the best chance of viewing this migration are Camp Kalahari and Nxai Pan Camp. You can take dips in private swimming pools, or even go for hot air ballooning to enjoy viewing the migration from above. Some of these camps offer game drives too- 4x4s take you through the expansive salt pans, where you can view many different species, like buffalo, giraffe, elephant, and lion. Some of these properties channel the revenue generated from visitors back into the conservation efforts of endangered animals.
A little outside of Botswana, you can stay at the Hoanib Valley Camp or Shipwreck lodge. Here, in the backdrop of Namibia’s stunning landscapes, you can view the desert-adapted wildlife, visit shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast, and meet the indigenous people to better understand and appreciate their culture.
Although the zebra migration is not the largest in Africa, it is still one of the most fascinating and intriguing. Not many travellers get the chance to see thousands of zebra traversing the raw landscapes of Botswana.
We curate a specialised tour for you to witness this lesser known spectacle of nature. It is a 7 day bespoke tour covering Khwai and Nxai Pans, and placing you in the strategically best locations to witness this rare migration. Learn more about it here.
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