Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Zebra Migration

It is well known in traveller circles that Botswana offers amazing safari experiences and untouched, raw natural beauty, but have you heard of the zebra migration in the Makgadigadi? Although not as famous as the Great Wildebeest Migration up in East Africa, the zebra migration is still a spectacular sight and is unique to this corner of Botswana. This particular migration, Africa’s second largest after the Serengeti migration, takes place after the December/January rains which, by February/ March, have transformed the arid expanse of the massive Makgadikgadi salt pans into a paradise of shallow streams, large pool-like puddles and vibrant green vistas.

The Okavango Delta and ancient Lake Makgadikgadi sit in the middle of the arid Botswana hinterland but, fed by the Okavango River (which in turn is fed by the rains in the Angolan highlands), the Delta swells each rainy season and creates a vast wetland teeming with life. A few hundred kilometers south is a dry lake that once would have also been an oasis, but nowadays is a salt pan created by endless seasons of evaporating water that never finds its way to the sea. The migration of some 30 000 strong zebra is a traditional journey between the two, in search of mineral-rich grasses, safe breeding grounds and, of course, water.

makgadigadi_pans_botswana
The unspoilt wonder of the Makgadigadi Pans.

The sight of herds of zebras on the move across the Kalahari Desert on their 680 km migration as they spread out into the remote, briefly verdant salt pans of the Delta, is a breathtaking and unforgettable sight. It’s a little-known wonder (and thus attracts fewer crowds) and is best seen from one of the luxury safari camps in the Makgadikgadi and Nxai National Parks or the Kalahari Desert, all teeming with wildlife and lush greenery during the rainy season. Studies have revealed that these Zebra in the Makgadikgadi can survive for up to a week without water.

Undiscovered Migration

The migration itself, ongoing since time immemorial, was undiscovered until recently when a research team noted zebras fitted with GPS collars had travelled from the southern Okavango to the distant Makgadikgadi grasslands and back, crossing over the region’s two national parks.

If it’s off-the-beaten-track and in search of something unique that you want, then timing your Botswana safari to coincide with the migration season (February and March) is a nice (and definitely different) idea! Here are our accommodation picks:

We suggest visiting Le Roo La Tau Safari Camp which lies nestled on the Makgadikgadi Pan National Park’s western border, just above the Boteti River’s life-giving waters. The lodge features a raised hide which is perfect for viewing the migratory herds clustering to drink and graze the sweet grasslands. Other animals also gather here, as do a wide variety of birds, many of which are in their colourful breeding plumage at this time of the year.

Zebra migration in full flight.
Zebra migration in full flight.

A more luxurious and certainly more remote choice would be Jack’s Camp, also situated in the Makgadikgadi Pans. Jack’s is unlike any other safari camp in the whole of Africa! Guests stay in luxury tents set against a dramatic desert landscape of massive silences and savage beauty. Inspired by the original 1940’s safari camp that old man Jack established, it is steeped in pioneer day history but has all luxury amenities.

Here you’ll see the herds grazing on the move whilst keeping a watchful eye for predators that follow the migration. Vultures and other birds of prey wheel and shriek in the air above the herds, waiting in competition with the local brown hyena packs for the chance to finish off a kill. Both camps offer full-day excursion drives across the vast plains, as well as quad-biking trips and walks led by experienced San Bushman guides.

Jack's Camp
Jack’s Camp

Makgadikgadi Pan

The Makgadikgadi Pan isn’t only one of the most magical of Africa’s remote wildlife regions but also one of the most fascinating for its plethora of species. The great migrations are a focus, not just for zebras, but also for impala, kudu and other plains game, including the endangered white rhino. The beauty of staying at one of the above camps isn’t just the amazing sights, it’s the night sounds of Africa, heard whilst enjoying a delicious meal with fine wine under a myriad stars.

For the thrill of a lifetime and an up-close and personal experience why not see the Botswana zebra migration on horseback? Spend up-to six dream days exploring the mysterious, millennia-old lake bed and its seasonal waterholes on horseback, accompanied by experienced guides. David Foot and his team are the best outfitters in the region and operate in collaboration with Unchartered Africa. Guests stay at Camp Kalahari which is located on the path of the migration and surrounded by the region’s desert-adapted wildlife including meerkat clans, aardvarks and porcupines.

For an unforgettable experience in one of Africa’s most remote locations why not follow the zebra migration across the Makgadikgadi salt pans? You may just be completely enthralled.

Zebra migration on horseback.
Zebra migration on horseback.

If you’d like to get more information on Botswana and the fascinating zebra migration, Contact Us and our expert consultants will be glad to answer any questions you might have.

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