Experience the marvel of the annual zebra migration in Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana.

Zebra Migration in Botswana

June 5, 2024

Witness 30,000 zebras migrating across Botswana, in this recently discovered spectacle of nature.

Chances are that you’ve heard of the Great Migration in the Serengeti – when over 1.5 million wildebeest, zebra, and antelope put on Africa’s most famous wildlife show.

But what about 30,000 zebras migrating across Botswana, from the Chobe River in the north and the Okavango Delta to the world’s largest salt pans - the Makgadikgadi Pans? Although not on the same scale as the Great Migration, this natural phenomenon is remarkable and remains one of the continent’s best-kept (and only recently discovered) secrets.

Even more incredible is the fact that Botswana is home to not one but two ancient migratory paths – a testament to the resilience of nature in the face of human interference, as well as proof of zebra’s incredible hereditary instinct to migrate. Intrigued? Let us take you on a fascinating journey with Botswana’s national symbol.

The history of the migration routes

During the 1950s and '60s, Botswana erected extensive veterinary fences to tackle foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in domestic cattle. Covering large swathes of land, the fences effectively blocked migration routes – making it impossible for zebra to migrate from the late 1960s onwards.

It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the fences were removed – and shortly after, researchers started to notice that Botswana’s zebras were making extraordinary movements through inaccessible parts of the country. Considering that the average life span for a zebra in the wild is around 12 years, no living zebra could possibly have remembered the route – and yet, the herds instinctively followed the same ancient migration patterns as generations before them.

In 2012, a research team used GPS tracking collars to confirm that Botswana’s zebras were completing an unexpectedly long return journey of over 1,000km each year – making it the longest mammal migration in Africa. Tracking research confirmed the zebras follow two ancient patterns: the Chobe-Nxai Pan and Okavango-Makgadikgadi migratory routes.

Where do zebras migrate from?

Botswana’s zebras spend the dry season (June - November) around the Chobe River floodplain and the Okavango Delta. When the rains begin, usually around the end of November or early December, they move in two distinct groups – one from the Chobe floodplains to Nxai Pan National Park, the other from the Okavango Delta to the Makgadikgadi Pan National Park, and back.

That sounds far?

It is indeed. In early December, rains begin to fall in the Nxai Pan area, prompting the zebra’s departure southwards from the Chobe floodplains to Nxai Pan National Park. Most travel in a direct straight line to Nxai Pan, covering about 250km in 14-20 days. Others choose a less linear direct path however, stopping at Seloko Plain before joining the rest a few weeks later. The round-trip migration distance, in a straight line, surpasses that of any African land migration, including the famous Serengeti migration in Tanzania and Kenya.

Once arrived, the herds disperse throughout Nxai Pan National Park and remain here for about three months before their return journey at the end of February or in early March – which, surprisingly, is much less straightforward. Most take around 80 days to return to the northern riverfront area of Chobe National Park, and typically travel about 500-800km to get there.

The smaller Makgadikgadi zebra migration is an even more recent discovery. Related to the rainfalls in the Makgadikgadi Pan National Park in late November/early December, the migration leaves the Okavango and reaches the verdant Makgadikgadi grasslands a few weeks later, having covered about 250km. The animals then stay for about two and half months before their return to the Okavango Delta in March, where they remain for the dry season.

Surprisingly, only 55% of zebra actually migrate to the Makgadikgadi; the rest remain in the Okavango year-round. Scientists are still trying to crack this behavioural code!

Why do they migrate in the first place?

Researchers believe that it has to do with the nutrient-rich grasses found at the pans. Boasting a much higher protein- and mineral-content than the ones found in the Okavango Delta or the Chobe floodplains, they provide zebra with up to three times more nutrients – making the long journey worthwhile for survival purposes alone.

How can I witness this incredible nature show?

To witness this natural spectacle in all its glory, we recommend focusing either on the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park or the Nxai Pan, and to travel during a time when not many tourists visit Botswana – rainy season. This means planning your trip for between December and February, when the zebras are arriving.

And the best way to follow them through often inaccessible ground? As a bird. It is of course possible for you to spot hundreds, if not thousands, of zebras directly in front of your camp during the green season – but given that access into the pans by vehicle is more difficult when it’s wet, a heli-flip puts the odds in your favour. You’ll be soaring high above the herds and can follow the migration to wherever it may lead – and the bird’s eye perspective will offer unparalleled scenic views that you’re sure to remember forever.

Nxai Pan Lodges: 

Madgadikgadi Pans Lodges:

The zebra migration can be seen from many different game parks in Botswana throughout the year so contact us for a tailor-made safari itinerary created specifically for you.

Related Travel Guides

~ see all travel guides ~

Tour & Safari Inspiration

~ see all TOURS & Safaris ~

Meet the Team

Our happy team visiting Sossusvlei
We’ve travelled. We’ve adventured. We’ve experienced. We're eager to share our world, never forgetting that each itinerary is as unique as the traveller.

"Thank you for all your hard work making such a successful trip!"

What a sensational week we had with Augie, seeing glorious Namibia!!  It was beyond our expectations and everyone at home is oooing and awwing over our photos.

Apr 24

"Breathtaking landscapes and unique cultural experiences"

We wouldn't hesitate to recommend your services to anyone seeking a truly exceptional travel experience in Namibia.

Apr 24

"NTS organized the trip wonderfully!"

We felt that the trip kept getting better every day

Feb 24

"The trip of our lives!"

Everything was excellently planned by Ashlee at Namibia Tours & Safaris.

Feb 24
~ more reviews ~

Quick Enquiry

Thank you! Your enquiry has been submitted. If you do not hear from us within 2 working days please check your spam folder, resubmit the query or email us: enquiries@namibia-tours-safaris.com
Error! Something went wrong while sending your enquiry.
Please try again or you can email us enquiries@namibia-tours-safaris.com
subscribe to our newsletter
social media