If you have ever seen the Great Migration event in Africa on TV, you may have seen millions of animals moving across the plains, including zebras.
Over 300,000 zebras join the Great Migration and are known to migrate every year to find places with better food sources. When there is little or no rain during the dry season, their current habitat doesn’t provide the food and water they need to survive, and this is when they start to migrate.
Zebras don’t migrate alone. Approximately two million animals also migrate in search of water and food, and zebras are only one small part of that large pack of animals. Wildebeest, antelope, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, eland, and impala join the journey.
Migrations usually happen due to a lack of food and water. Many animals all over Africa will migrate to find water supplies and better food. They will get past the land, which is dried up, to reach much-needed water and food. Many will do this annually, while others might even do it twice yearly.
Migrations are filled with challenges, including many types of predators. Rivers can be full of crocodiles, while on land, zebras are targeted by lions and cheetahs, among others.
Where do zebras migrate to and from?
Like most other animals that migrate in Africa, zebras tend to perform an annual migration from the Serengeti plains into the Masai Mara in Kenya. This is a trip of more than 500 miles. The migration can be seen as a large circle since the zebra and wildebeest will move clockwise or counterclockwise starting from the southeast.
The timing of the migration can differ annually. The migration comes down to water and food availability and environmental conditions. It’s a very challenging time for these animals, but they need to survive and stay healthy for the year ahead.
Many zebras migrate from the woodland around Lake Victoria into the Serengeti. They spend the dry season feeding in the open woods, but once December brings the first storms, they move off southeast into the central plains, where they can find fresher pastures. Zebras are the first of the many animals to arrive and feed on the leaves and stems of the taller grasses.
Zebras expose the lower layers of vegetation as they trample and eat the higher leaves. This allows the wildebeest to feed on the lower leaves of the grasses and the gazelles to eat the low-growing plants.
From January to March in the wet season, the large herds normally migrate counterclockwise. However, this can change as the direction is based predominantly on where the rain can be seen or heard falling. Storm clouds up to 100 km away will provide a direction to the migrating herds.
Once the plains dry out in June, the herds migrate back to their dry season home range, where food and water are plentiful. In December and January, the females will give birth during the migration to the wet season home range.
The large herds also give other animals such as the giraffe and impala a fairly safe way to give birth to their young. These animals will give birth in October while the herds are still around. This allows the young to survive while their usual predators are off hunting animals from the large herds.
Another migration is the Makgadikgadi migration in Botswana. This takes place across the Kalahari desert, and it is 350 miles in total. During this migration, zebras and other animals head to the Makgadikgadi grasslands to reach healthier soil filled with new plants.
Predators of the migration
Many predators will feed on zebras and other animals while migrating. The spotted hyena will follow the herd at the beginning of the dry season. While some will follow them for the whole of the migration, feeding on them at will, other, more immobile hyenas, generally females with young, will stay at the edges of the plains, entering them to hunt when needed.
Lions will not typically follow the herds but will stay in their home range throughout the year. They will only prey on them when the herds enter their territory. Lionesses generally do most of the hunting.
Why do zebra and wildebeest migrate together?
Usually, zebras share their migration with many other animals, including wildebeest. These animals are no threat to one another, and the larger packs make them less appealing to predators since they know it’s harder to attack them. They also have a common goal: to reach water and places where they can find all the food they need.
Since the journey is difficult and these animals migrate for hundreds of miles, they need plenty of protection. They don’t want to be exposed to predators, including lions constantly stalking exposed herds. Protection is the main reason why zebras and wildebeest are known to migrate together.
As zebras feed on the higher leaves of plants first, this allows the wildebeest to feed on the lower leaves, allowing both species to feed in the same area.
Do zebras hibernate or migrate?
While some animals like bears hibernate to wait for better weather and good food sources, this is not the case for zebras. Zebras don’t hibernate. While other animals that live in extremely hot or freezing climates will hibernate to conserve energy or survive for a long time, zebras migrate.
Zebras migrate because it can take a lot of time for their habitat to provide food again. Zebras will migrate to new locations where they know they can find the food and water they need. Zebras are known to migrate hundreds of miles to stay alive.
How far do zebras migrate?
It is common for zebras to migrate hundreds of miles every year. Sometimes they may go further than in other years; it all comes down to finding the amount of food and water they need. In the Great Migration, zebras can easily travel over 500 miles.
It’s important to note that zebras have an excellent memory when migrating. Zebras remember the places where there are good foraging conditions. They can often be found at the same sites every year.
Since zebras are targeted by predators much of the time, it’s often said that they sleep with one eye open. That’s not true, however. Zebras can sleep standing up, locking the tendons and ligaments in the knees. This allows them to react quickly if they are alerted to predators. While sleeping, other zebras will stand guard near them to provide a warning against any threats.
Zebras are known to migrate every year to greener pastures and to find water sources. This adventure is not without its dangers, but it’s something they do every year alongside millions of other animals. Migration is essential for them to continue living and thriving as a species. They have excellent eyesight and sense of smell, which allows them to stay very prudent and ensure their safety even in the most challenging and demanding situations.
It’s incredible to see zebras and other animals cover hundreds of miles to find food and water. This is a natural wonder and one of the most amazing things animals do to stay alive and survive.