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Researchers Discover African Zebras Log World's Longest-Known Terrestrial Migration

Researchers Discover African Zebras Log World's Longest-Known Terrestrial Migration

Scientists have just discovered the longest-known terrestrial migration of wildlife in Africa—up to several thousand zebra traveling a distance of more than 300 miles (500 km)—according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Equus burchelli Burchell's zebra migration on the plains with a thunderstorm in the background. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. © Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

Using GPS collars on eight adult zebras, WWF and collaborators, including Elephants Without Borders, tracked two consecutive years of movement by the herds—from the Chobe River in Namibia to Botswana’s Nxai Pan National Park and back, a straight-line distance of 250 km. The findings are detailed in a new study published in the journal Oryx.

Physical barriers such as conservation fences have imperiled migrations of a diverse range of species in other parts of Africa and around the world.

“This unexpected discovery of endurance in an age dominated by humans, where we think we know most everything about the natural world, underscores the importance of continued science and research for conservation” said Dr. Robin Naidoo, senior conservation scientist at WWF.

Equus burchelli Burchell's zebra On alert as they watch lions. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. © Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

“At a time when conservation news is inherently rather negative, the discovery of this unknown natural phenomenon should resonate with people around the world,” said Dr. Mike Chase, Elephants Without Border’s founder. “The government’s commitment to secure key migratory corridors serves to underpin the growing wildlife tourism industry. We plan to continue monitoring the migration to try and conserve such increasingly rare natural events.”

Continued long-term research will be needed to confirm that this is an annual and fixed migration, says WWF, as well as whether this is genetically coded or behavior passed from mothers to offspring.

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The Forest Vixen's CC Photo Stream. Flickr / CC BY 2.0


Spring is coming. And soon, tree swallows will start building nests. But as the climate changes, the birds are nesting earlier in the spring.


"It's getting warmer overall. They're thinking, OK, it's a good time to breed, to lay my eggs," says Lily Twining of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany.

She says that despite recent warming, late-season cold snaps remain common. Those cold snaps can harm newborn chicks.

Hatchlings cannot regulate their body temperature, so they are vulnerable to hypothermia. And the insects they eat stop flying in cold weather, potentially leaving the chicks to starve.

"These chicks are growing very, very fast," Twining says. "They have very high energy demands, so… if they don't get a lot of that good high-quality food during this pretty specific time… that's when these cold weather events seem to be most devastating."

For example, data from Ithaca, New York, shows that a single cold snap in 2016 killed more than 70% of baby tree swallows.

"And there have been more and more of these severe cold weather die-off events for these tree swallows as they've been breeding earlier and earlier over the past 40 or so years," Twining says.

So for these songbirds, earlier springs can come with devastating consequences.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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