One of Africa’s hidden gems that has gone through a “spectacular transformation” in the last decade, and should be on every safari-goer’s bucket list, Zakouma in Chad is so popular it gets booked up a year or two in advance.
Situated just south of the Sahara desert and above the fertile rainforest regions, it is, according to its managers African Parks, a “primary safe haven for Central and West African wildlife.”
The 3,500 square kilometre Zakouma was created in 1963, but in the 8 years to 2010 its wildlife was decimated, with poachers on horseback going on a rampage and some 4,000 elephants killed for their ivory. With the backing of the Canadian government, African Parks took over its management in partnership with the Chadian government. Then the change began.
“Poaching plummeted – elephants, giraffe, buffalo and other species have experienced little to no poaching during the past eight years, and only 24 known elephants have been killed since 2010 – allowing wildlife to return,” says African Parks. The elephant population, once almost depleted, is now nearly 600.
Colin Bell of Natural Selection, which offers journeys to the park, says Zakouma has to be “one of the finest safari and wildlife experiences available anywhere. The sheer volume of ‘life’ in and around Zakouma is astonishing. No matter how many times you may have travelled in Africa, Zakouma will take your breath away – the park should be on every serious safari-goer’s bucket list.”
Numbers of many species have increased, including roan antelope, Lelwel’s hartebeest, and Kordofan giraffe (Zakouma is home to 50 percent of the global population). The park’s buffalo population, reduced to about 220 in 1986, is now over 12,000.
In a recent review of the park in National Geographic, one tour operator was quoted saying, “Nothing prepares you for the sight of millions of red-billed queleas taking flight at sunrise.”
Zakouma has a very small window to be visited because of its weather. The best time is from January through April, at the end of the dry season, when wildlife congregates and travelling around the park is easier. The rest of the year is wet and marshy, made worse by black cotton soils that flood the park’s tracks and limit access. African Park’s Camp Nomade, which is modeled after the simple camps of the Sahel, can only host 8, maybe 10, guests at a time.
“And it’s not inexpensive either,” says Bell, “as all their tourism revenues earned have to help pay for the year-round management and conservation costs that are incurred to keep Zakouma safe and thriving.”
Wild Frontiers, which is leading a safari group there in 2020, said, “A park once ravaged by civil conflict and poaching, Zakouma is one of African Parks real turnaround success stories.”
In an article in the latest national Geographic about how safaris are changing, the author lists Zekouma in Chad as one of AFrica’s success stories.
“We are in a game-changing moment of innovation where local people and travelers alike are benefiting from a new safari vision,” National Geographic quoted Keith Vincent, CEO of Wilderness Safaris, saying.
Natural Selection says it can apply for a week’s visit to Zakouma on your behalf and also provide an outstanding and experienced private guide to accompany you while there to help ensure that your visit is a success. “The camp does book up fast, so plan at least a year or two ahead to book your week.”