At a time when mankind's encroachment on habitats is increasingly leading species to extinction, scientists have discovered a mass migration of animals in Africa that reaches farther than any other documented on the continent.
The journey made by about 2,000 zebras who traveled between Namibia and Botswana, two countries in a sparsely populated part of southern Africa, was discovered by wildlife experts only after some of the zebras were collared with tracking devices.
The newfound migration is a rare bright spot at a time when mass movements of wildlife are disappearing because of fencing, land occupation and other human pressures. Species of plants and animals around the planet are being wiped out at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived on the scene, said a separate study published Thursday by the journal Science.
The previously unheralded trek occurs within the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which is the size of Sweden and encompasses national parks in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola.
"It goes to show us that nature still has some surprises," said Robin Naidoo, senior conservation scientist at the Washington-based World Wildlife Fund that led the two-year study on the migration. He said the main reason that the migration was not detected earlier was because it was impossible to know where the animals were going without GPS tracking technology.
The zebra odyssey encompasses a round trip journey of 300 miles, starting in floodplains near the Namibia-Botswana border at the beginning of the wet season. It follows a route across the Chobe River and ends at the seasonally full waterholes and nutritional grass of Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana. The zebras spend about 10 weeks there before heading back.
"This is the longest known land migration in Africa, in terms of distance between endpoints," Naidoo said.
David Wilcove, a conservation expert at Princeton University, described the migration as an extraordinary discovery at a time when such mass movements are dwindling.
Tony Sinclair, Naidoo's fellow academic at the University of British Columbia and an expert on the Serengeti migration, said the research shows the animals have to move through "human-dominated lands" and the migration could be lost if more protective measures are not put in place.