Survey reveals South Sudan’s mammoth animal migration

Friday June 28 2024

Ultra-wide angle shot of wildebeest herd crossing Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya. PHOTO | SHUTERSTOCK


South Sudan has emerged as the country with the largest land mammal migration in the world, a new aerial study has shown.

The study conducted by African Parks in partnership with the government of South Sudan, revealed that six million animals move annually between South Sudan and Ethiopia covering, 122,774 square kilometres.

This spectacular phenomenon known as the Great Nile Migration involves the annual movement of millions of antelopes, white-eared kob, Mongalla gazelle, tiang and reedbuck across the Boma Badingilo Jonglei Landscape (BBJL) into Gambella National Park in Ethiopia.

The findings have dwarfed the celebrated annual wildebeest migration in East Africa, where more than two million animals (wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles) migrate across the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

Read: Wildebeest suffocating from being boxed in parks

South Sudan now has the challenge of conserving this delicate ecosystem and managing potentially damaging human activities given that many ethnic groups live within the BBJL


They including the Dinka, Murle, Anyuak, Jie, Toposa, Nyangatom, Nuer, Mudari, Bari, Lokyoya, Madi, Lolubo, Ari, Lopit, Latuka, Boya, and Didinga.

The migration journeys from the South Sudan savannah into Gambella National Park, Ethiopia, across many diverse habitats and ecosystems including the White Nile River, which is a lifeline for both wildlife and communities.

While announcing the results of the survey report on June 25, President Salva Kiir that South Sudan boasts of some of the richest land biodiversity in the region. “Our grasslands and protected sites provide a haven for some of the largest populations of antelope on earth.  It has brought us the position of number one in the world,” he said.

President Kiir promised that the government is committed to transforming the wildlife sector into a sustainable tourism industry and called upon the security forces and the Ministry of Wildlife to give priority to training and equipping wildlife rangers to combat poaching and trafficking of illegal wildlife products.

The survey covered a 122,774 km2 contiguous block, encompassing the entire known range of the four main migratory antelope species in the Great Nile Migration.

Data from 251 tracking collars placed on large mammals was also integrated into the assessment, providing a holistic understanding of the region's ecological dynamics which continues across the boundary of South Sudan, into Ethiopia.

Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks said that the results of the survey are nothing short of staggering and that the scale of the migration places a huge responsibility on the authorities to ensure that it survives into the future in an extremely complex landscape.

“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,” said Mr Fearnhead.

He is concerned that already there is a rise in commercial poaching of wildlife and that African Parks is working with the local communities to protect this vital ecosystem.

“The protection of this global phenomenon will bring about stability, safety and security and create a sustainable future for the people who live in this area – many of whom are still recovering after years of war and disruption,” he said. 

President Kiir said that the protection of the South Sudan heritage is a shared responsibility and called upon the private sector to join their partners in promoting the tourism sector.