Earth’s largest game migration recorded in South Sudan

SURVEY … An aircraft equipped with cameras carries out an aerial survey of wildlife east of the White Nile River in South Sudan. Photos: Marcus Westberg

The first comprehensive aerial survey of wildlife in South Sudan has revealed the largest land mammal migration on Earth.

The conservation organisation African Parks reported this week that the aerial survey of the Boma Badingilo Jonglei Landscape (BBJL) in the east of South Sudan recorded the seasonal movement of about six million antelope, making it the world’s largest land mammal migration.

The survey, carried out with two aeroplanes equipped with cameras that captured more than 330 000 images throughout the survey period, covered an area of nearly 123 000 square kilometres, encompassing the entire known range of the four main migratory antelope species in a wildlife spectacle referred to as the Great Nile Migration.

The survey recorded wildlife on the move on an astounding scale.

An estimated five million white-eared kob antelope, nearly 350 000 Mongalla gazelle, about 300 000 tiang antelope – a subspecies of the topi – and more than 160 000 Bohor reedbuck are estimated to have the BBJL as their habitat.

Close to 400 000 head of cattle were also counted in the same area during the survey.

ABUNDANCE … Migrating tiang antelope in the Boma Badingilo Jonglei Landscape.
THE SUDD … The White Nile spreads into a swampy network known as the Sudd in South Sudan.
IN THOUSANDS … Tiang antelope numbers are estimated at about 300 000 animals.

Comparisons with the results from aerial surveys done in 2007 and 2010, indicate that the white-eared kob population has increased since those studies, while the numbers of other antelope species have either stayed relatively stable or declined, African Parks reported.

The animals gather in South Sudan’s Badingilo National Park, situated north-east of the country’s capital, Juba, during the wet season for breeding, before migrating north and east towards Boma National Park and the Sudd White Nile swamps, which are the largest wetlands in Africa and the second largest in the world, and into Gambella National Park in Ethiopia.

African Parks chief executive Peter Fearnhead said: “The results of this survey are nothing short of staggering. The astonishing scale of the migration is only equalled by the responsibility to ensure that it survives into the future in an extremely complex landscape.”

ON THE MOVE … White-eared kob antelope on the move between Badingilo and Boma national parks in South Sudan.

He added: “This wildlife and larger ecosystem is the basis for survival for multiple ethnic groupings which are often in conflict with each other over resources. Successful management of this landscape will only be possible through building trust with and amongst these ethnic groupings.

“Already the threats to the system are abundantly clear with commercial poaching of the wildlife at a scale that we have never witnessed before.”

African Parks also said in a statement this week: “South Sudan’s remarkable natural heritage, a cornerstone of its future prosperity, faces significant vulnerability despite the numbers.”

The organisation cautioned: “Unmanaged exploitation of this resource could trigger the collapse of migratory patterns, ecological integrity and the livelihoods dependent upon them. A comparison with studies conducted in the 1980s shows that there have been substantial declines in most sedentary species which do not exhibit a migratory pattern, including elephant, warthog, cheetah, hippo and buffalo.”

The BBJL is a vital part of a larger ecosystem in an area of 200 000 square kilometres stretching east of the White Nile River, covering South Sudan’s Central Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria and Jonglei states and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area.

AFRICAN ICONS … Giraffe were recorded as well during the aerial survey.

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