Parc du Zakouma in Chad is one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories of recent years. African Parks is an NGO which specializes in managing distressed parks, and when they took over management of Zakouma in 2010, it was a lawless place too dangerous for tourists to visit and the elephant population had almost completely been wiped out. Now Zakouma is a thriving reserve, with rebounding game numbers and steady flow of tourists. Elephants have started breeding again and the buffalo population is over 10 000 from less than 200 in 1986.
Zakouma is situated in a stretch of savannah which lies across central Africa, just south of the Sahara desert. For much of the rainy season, the park is inundated with water (and closed to tourists), but from January through to April it gets progressively hotter and drier and the wildlife gets increasingly concentrated around the remaining water in the pans and rivers. We visited in the middle of April and temperatures were high – exceeding 40 degrees at midday and seldom dropping below 30 even at night which made sleeping a challenge. Luckily we had a few early rain storms to cool things down. The concentration of bird life around the pans of Zakouma is astonishing – words and pictures cannot do it justice. Literally thousands of storks, cranes and other water birds surround every pan, interspersed with a mind blowing number of raptors enjoying an easy lunch. The flocks of queleas which congregate at sunset contain hundreds of thousands of birds, if not millions. In total, we counted 120 different bird species, many of them completely new to us.
There is a good range of general game as well, including some central African specialities like kob, and huge herds of buffalo. Lions are plentiful and very well fed. Zakouma is famous for its enormous breeding herd of elephants (which can number over 200) but they were in the far south during our visit so we only saw much smaller groups of bulls. Night drives are particularly productive, especially after 7pm with multiple genets, civets and white tailed mongoose interspersed with the occasional african wild cat, side striped jackal, pale fox, serval and one fleeting leopard. For the bird nerds, there is also a chance to see the standard winged nightjar, a bizarre nocturnal bird which raises two flag shaped feathers from its wings as it flies, making it look like a weird double bird.
Zakouma is an incredible place, and we feel so privileged to have visited!
The logistics: There are two accommodation options in Zakouma. Camp Nomade is a temporary camp in a magnificent location but it is extremely pricey and can only be visited on a week-long safari with a private guide. We opted for Camp Tinga which is really good value for money and offers decent (if a bit dated) accommodation which is further away from the pans (although still with really good game viewing nearby). Food is excellent and there are twice daily game drives with the option of a bush walk for a small extra charge. Guiding was mainly in French so we did need to figure out the English names for things ourselves.
The biggest challenge with Zakouma is getting there. There are two options – a two day road transfer (which many of the people we met at Tinga opted for) or a prohibitively expensive private charter flight which is only practical in a group. If you can’t get your own group together, there are tour operators (such as Wild Frontiers) who offer group departures (for a premium), or African Parks can help you find spare seats on existing charters if you’re flexible on dates. We were extremely lucky to find two seats on a plane for more-or-less the right dates. There are plans to offer a more regular weekly scheduled flight for the 2020 high season.
African Parks are extremely helpful so we recommend contacting them directly for bookings and information. You can also donate to this incredible cause on their website.
You can see more photos from our trip here: Zakouma showing off