Zakouma National Park lies in southeastern Chad’s Salamat region. It is approximately 3000 km2 in size which is double the size of Kenya’s famous Masai Mara. It was established by the Chadian government in 1963 as a mean of protecting the Kordofan giraffe as well as other animals.
The wildlife inside the park have been threatened by poaching in general and the ivory trade in particular. The huge upswing in poaching coincided with the reopening of the international ivory trade in 2006. In 2007 Parks HQ even got attacked by Janjaweed members whom knew about a stockpile of ivory being kept there. During the attack three rangers got killed defending HQ. A few intensive years of poaching decimated the Elephant population in the Park by a staggering 90%.
In 2010 the government in Chad started to work with African Parks as they needed help to manage Zakouma and its wildlife. That is the starting point of one of the most stunning conservation success stories in Africa.
2010 was the starting point of the rejuvenation of Zakouma when African Parks took over the reign. They did this in partnership with the Chadian government with the aim of restoring the Park to its former self. African Parks is a NGO, Non-Governmental Organization, whom work in partnership with governments and local communities helping them rehabilitating and managing protected areas. Up until today they work and manage 15 different Parks on the continent.
In Zakouma the priority for African Parks was to bring back law and order. Restoring peace in the surrounding areas as well as letting them understand the benefit of halting all illegal activities. Today the Park act as the largest employer in the region and tourists have started to deliver revenue not only back to the Park, but also to local communities.
Zakouma National Park is a part of the Sudano-Sahelian vegetation zone. There you will find shrubland, high grasses and Acacia or Combretum savannah. In the east you find sections of gallery forest and floodplain depression, or pans, while inselbergs are a feature in the south-west.
The Red Acacia, aka shittah tree, is not only beautiful to look at but also an important source of gum for local people. It is one of the characterized tree species in the Acacia savannah together with Scented thorn, Desert date, Axlewood tree, Jujube and Combretum glutinosum. The prominent trees in the Combretum savannah is Paperbark thorn, White thorn and Axlewood tree.
The National Park is a sanctuary for West and Central African biodiversity. The Park hold almost 50% of the entire population of Kordofan giraffe. You will find huge herds of a mixed type of Buffalo with individuals ranging from black to orange. They are probably a mix of Forest and Cape Buffalo and are locally called Central African Savannah Buffalo.
Other notable mammals include Buffon’s Kob, Roan antelope, Red-fronted Gazelle, Lelwel’s Hartebeest, Tiang, Western Greater Kudu, Harnessed Bushbuck and Defassa Waterbuck. You have three primates in the Park i.e. Patas monkey, Tantalus monkey and Olive Baboon.
You find all the main predators like Lion, Leopard, Spotted Hyena, Side-striped Jackal, African Golden Wolf, Serval and African Civet. If you are lucky you might see smaller predators like African Wild Cat, Pale Fox and Honey Badger at night.
A big attraction in Zakouma National Park is the “single” herd of African elephants. They are also one of the main factors in the upswing of Zakouma’s reputation. At the start of the century they had almost 4000 Elephants, but 10 years later the population was down to 450 due to poaching.
African Parks managed to halt poaching and you now see baby Elephants in the herd which wasn’t the case in 2010. Today the herd is well protected by Rangers monitoring them daily throughout the year. They are still wary of humans and might flee if they catch the smell or hear a human voice.
Bird life in the Park is prolific. Species you normally see in pairs can be found in hundreds. You probably hear the honking Black Crowned Crane before you see them. Groups of thousand Cranes is not an uncommon sight. You might see both the Great White Pelican and Pink-backed Pelican fishing together in big droves. Among the smaller more colorful birds you will find the Red-fronted Bee-eater, Black-headed Gonolek and Abyssinian Roller.
Watching Red-billed Quelas coming to drink is a highlight for most visitors. It can be seen during all day, but often peak late afternoon before the birds go to roost. At that time they might come in the millions followed by predatory birds looking for an easy snack. The waves of Quelas coming to drink is stunning to witness.
A prominent feature of the National Park is the two distinct seasons. The contrast between the dry season and the wet season is huge. During an average year Zakouma will receive 850mm rain leaving most parts of the park under water. Due to the Parks location at the center of the Chadian Basin most of the regions rain fall will flow into Zakouma turning it into a huge marsh. Therefore, most of the wildlife are forced to migrate to parts that still are dry during the wet season.
The wet season normally runs between June and November. The closer you come to the start of the wet season the drier and hotter the Park will be. Temperatures can easily reach well above 40 degrees Celsius that time of the year.
The Park is normally only open for a few months during the dry season when animals move back to the eastern parts of the Park. There the pans and floodplains provide plenty of water as well as good grazing. It is a fantastic time to visit as you will see large herds of animals and birds congregate at the different bodies of water.
I went to Zakouma in the middle of March. It was an exploration trip with the goal of looking at a potential place to bring photographers.
The place literally blew me away.
I tried my best to capture the beauty of the Park, both with photos and videos as I felt it was hard to describe it within a single frame. Sometimes the sheer number of animals made it hard to photograph. Still I hope you can enjoy my photo album. I will soon write more about different encounters in my blog so keep your eyes open.
Regarding any questions about an upcoming trip. Well something is brewing and will hopefully be published soon. Zakouma is breaktaking and trust me it is a place I would love to show to more people.
Please enjoy the Photo Album from Zakouma National Park.