Journey of the desert zebra

A Grevy’s zebra in the Chabli desert seen by the Marwell team on a previous expedition, with ancient lava flows in the background.

A Grevy’s zebra in the Chabli desert seen by the Marwell team on a previous expedition, with ancient lava flows in the background.

The team immediately tracked one zebra from this previously unstudied population over a distance of 500km in less than a month. Remarkably, this animal traversed the hostile Chalbi desert, following a circuitous route for 11 days in this environment. She then moved to the eastern periphery of the desert where it is likely that she visited some hot salt springs to drink before ascending an ancient lava flow to find foraging opportunities for the following day and night. The study animal then travelled south toward a less arid environment along the foothills of the Ndoto Mountain range before settling for the timebeing in this area. 

This is the first recorded movement of a large mammal across the Chalbi desert, suggesting the area could provide an important refuge and corridor for arid adapted wildlife. The movement of this animal also demonstrates important connectivity between our remote study area and other locations occupied by Grevy’s zebra. The abilities of this species to endure long periods without water, maintain themselves on poor quality forage and to adapt their behaviour to cope with the presence of people and livestock are critical for their survival in this harsh environment.

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Hot salt springs at the edge of the Chalbi desert – the only water source for many miles.

Hot salt springs at the edge of the Chalbi desert – the only water source for many miles.