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ON THE MOVE: Zebras in Chobe

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The great migration

Thousands of zebra, wildebeest head for Chobe National Park

One of the biggest, most impressive spectacles of nature is the Masai Mara migration.

This annual phenomenon sees over 1.5 million wildebeest and herd animals relocate to the lush grass of the 1,510sq km National Reserve in Kenya.

In perhaps one of the most frequently filmed natural events, herds of zebras and wildebeest have to negotiate a safe passage across the dangerous Mara and Telek Rivers where hungry Nile crocodiles lie in wait. Hundreds of tourists come to Kenya every year to witness this bloody encounter between the uncompromising reptiles and determined herbivores.

Closer to home, a similar migration occurs on a smaller scale every 12 months without fail.

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According to the Chobe National Park Manager, Mbututu Mbututu, thousands of zebras and wildebeest migrate from Makgadikgadi through the Mababe depression into the Park.

Eventually they end up at the Parakarungu/Satau flat plains, where they remain until the next rainy season.

Explaining away the recent increase of zebra populations around Kachikau, Mbututu told The Voice this was to be expected at this time of year.

“This is a natural and seasonal migration that people should be used to. The migration begins between June and July, and zebras are usually the first indicators followed by wildebeest,” shared Mbututu.

He said such migration makes for incredible viewing for people using the Gweta/Maun road where they’re likely to see hundreds of these animals crossing.

“You’ll see them in numbers along Kumaga and Mababe on their way to Parakarungu and Satau,” he added.

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The Park Manager explained the animals are drawn to the flat plains, which are currently covered in tall coarse grass.

“At times the numbers are too huge, and we’ve at some point used choppers to try to drive the animals back, but it has never worked because it is a natural occurrence,” continued Mbututu.

He said he’s aware that some people are not comfortable with the arrival of the animals, which could be a nuisance particularly to farmers.

“We’re also concerned because we know that such big herds will be followed by predators such as lions and hyenas, so we’ve to be ready to protect farmers,” he said.

Mbututu, however, encouraged Chobe residents to learn to co-exist with animals as they bring much-needed revenue.

“In Kenya, for instance, the reason their animal migration has become such a spectacle is because tourism is a local population driven. People know the value of these animals. We’re, however, slowly coming to that realisation ourselves and with the Co-existence Policy soon such spectacles will be national events,” he said.

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Kgosi Mmualefe Mmualefe of Kachikau also told The Voice that the increase of zebras in his village was a double-edged sword.

“There’s a lot of excitement in the village. It is a lovely animal and rarely troubles anyone. Our only fear is that we know lions and hyenas are trekking them, and that is bad news for farmers,” he said.

Mmualefe said human/animal conflict is rife in Kachikau and fears that this large increase will escalate the problem.

“They are beautiful animals to look at, and bring tourists to our village, but there should be a balance for everyone to benefit,” concluded Kgosi Mmualefe reasonably.

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