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A Return to Eden; Zakouma, February 2016


Ant Kaschula
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I've recently returned home from my second visit to Zakouma and having had a little time to reflect back on my time there; the trip was indeed one of the highlights of my guiding career...

 

MY INTRODUCTION TO ZAKOUMA

 

The first time I visited Zakouma was in January 2011, when we (my wife, Rawana and myself) made the impulsive decision to take up a good university friend's invitation to visit him.

 

Darren had been in Zakouma for a couple of years working under WCS and was about to leave to Niassa in northern Mozambique and wasn't sure if or when he would return to Chad so we threw caution to the wind as this was to be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

 

Rawana was four months pregnant at the time and whilst we did have concerns of malaria and personal safety etc., we decided that if we were sensible and covered up in the evenings and sprayed ourselves then we should be ok on the malaria front. On the personal safety front, well, if it's our time to go then so be it!

 

In a nutshell, our 2011 trip was incredible and we spent approximately 10 days in the park. Tinga was the only accommodation available and although a little run down was perfectly acceptable; though the pillows were like rocks and the rooms like pizza ovens...We took our own supplies of cheeses and salamis etc. which we had purchased from a little boulangerie in Ndjamena which went well with the freshly baked rolls from the Tinga kitchen.

 

One of the highlights of that trip were the daily flights we did with Darren, primarily to locate the elephants but also to keep a presence in the further flung reaches of the park. One of the sights I'll never forget are the 'flight paths', still clearly visible from the air, made by several hundred elephant in obvious panic which we followed back up to the cause of the disturbance where the remains of 4 elephants that had been poached a few months before our arrival, lay out in the sun...

 

Another highlight was fly camping on the Salamat River using mosi dome tents which we had taken with us.

 

Morale at Zakouma wasn't great and it seemed like they were fighting a losing battle. Darren's recount of one of the contacts they had had with poachers the previous year appeared as if taken out of a James Bond movie; only the horror of it was reality.

 

On our return from Chad, we were blown away by the experience and wrote a short blog, soon after which we put together a set departure itinerary for a tour operator in the UK whose guest profiles seemed to best fit what we had just experienced. Sadly nothing came of it; along came our baby; Darren left Zakouma to Niassa and our mobile camp in Gonarezhou began to get busy so life took over and our time in Zakouma appeared to be one of those 'thank goodness we went there' experiences...

 

FIVE YEARS LATER

 

So, five years later, I found myself back on the apron at the Zakouma airstrip, meeting Darren and his wife, Imogen; the Park's Tourism Liason with whom I had been in comms with for several months leading up to my trip which I was guiding for Steppes Travel.

 

The last time I had seen Darren was in Ndjamena five years previously and LOT had happened since then; including him getting married and African Parks taking over the management of the park shortly after our previous visit.

 

I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from my previous trip but quite honestly there was no comparison between the two experiences; thanks entirely to the work being done by African Parks and having a unique 'tented' camp located right in the middle of the action in which to stay...

 

MAKING COMPARISONS

 

In the last fifteen years or so, I've been extremely privileged to have visited many of what are considered to be some of the top wildlife destinations in Southern and East Africa plus one or two in West Africa and Zakouma easily rivals, and in many cases surpasses, the very best of them in almost every way.

 

In today's modern world of travel with virtually unlimited wildlife safari options to choose from, for those well travelled Africa Aficianados, what are the key ingredients that provide for a five star wildlife experience?

 

I've highlighted a couple of what I think these are and have given my own judgement when rating the "Zakouma & Camp Nomade Experience" on a scale of 1-10.

 

This is a subjective, personal opinion and no doubt others may differ in their judgement, however from all accounts on the net and from personal discussions I've had with other guides and guests who have been to Zakouma, I think I'm simply echoing everyone else insofar as the "Zakouma & Camp Nomade Experience" rates right at the very top of their "life experiences".

 

Someone posted something on Instagram which I saw yesterday and which pricked up my ears - "One Life. Just One. Why aren't we all racing like fire towards our dreams?". That saying immediately made me think of Zakouma and how very privileged I am to have been there...

 

Right, let's not digress too much but getting back to 'rating' the "Zakouma & Camp Nomade Experience", I'm sticking my neck out by doing this as we all have different frames of reference. For example some people will rate ablution facilities without running water very low, however, I rank facilities that are clean, functional and aesthetically in keeping with one's environment very high...etc.

 

Well, here goes then...please don't shoot me down!

 

Location: 9/10

Comfort: 8*/10

Ablution facilities: 9/10

Wildlife diversity (including birdlife): 10/10

Wildlife abundance (including birdlife): 10/10

Cuisine: 10/10 (I'm really not a foodie but the meals were the BEST I have had in any camp, anywhere and full credit must be given to Jamie for such interesting, freshly prepared meals with so much local flare. Well done!)

Wilderness value: 10/10

Exclusivity: 10/10

Vehicle comfort & design: 10/10 (soft leather seats with a middle padded box for cameras and binos etc. and the most unique reed matted roofs I've every seen (image attached below); top of the range spotlights with filters for night drives, leaves removed from rear suspension to make them softer etc.

"Uniqueness "(camp design and functionality): 10/10

Cost: I can't assign a number here but the overall experience is worth every penny.

Accessibility: 6/10 (MAF only has one Caravan so if it's under maintenance then other options aren't very many)

 

* - If it was possible to modify the 'tents' to allow the entire front and rear to be opened up, thereby allowing the breeze to pass stright through during the day time, then this would push comfort up to 9/10.

 

I didn't take too many photos on this trip and my lens is a Canon 28-300mm EF 3.5-5.6 which I know isn't the sharpest of lenses and has it's limitations but herewith a couple of images to add to the many, many much better images already posted by others...

 

SOME WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHTS

  • 3 sightings of cheetah (same mother and 3/4 grown son)
  • 2 leopard sightings (both males and very relaxed; one in the day time and the other at night)
  • multiple serval and honey badger sightings
  • multiple sightings of different lions or prides of lions (fairly relaxed in most cases)
  • 24 news species of birds (I can't see this happenning again in my life on a single safari)
  • Ridiculous numbers of birds (too many species to be specific)
  • Very good and continuous sightings of several different large mammals - central african savanna buffalo, western roan, sing-sing defassa waterbuck; nigerian bohor reedbuck; harnessed bushbuck, buffon's kob, tiang, lelwel's hartebeest, patas monkey, tantalas monkey, olive baboon (we saw a total of 30 out of a total of 42 species of large mammal)

To finish off, much has already been said on previous posts but for anyone who has not been to Zakouma, NOTHING can prepare you for the sheer abundance and diversity of wildlife and birds that you will encounter, and many of them will likely be new to you.

 

For the time being Chad is safe and African Parks are doing a sterling job so the only advice I can give is that if you do want to visit then make sure you don't put it off for too long...

 

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Edited by Ant Kaschula
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@@Ant Kaschula

 

 

So good to hear your perspective on Zakouma, partculalry after a five year gap

 

It is already on my bucket list but probably will not happen due to my lack of funds and advancing years.

 

 

I was curious about the cheetah which appears to have a rather slender head. This may simply be the shot angle but I did wonder if there was a sub species in Chad.

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Indeed the cheetah in Zakouma are more 'wiry'in structure than I've seen elsewhere but can't comment on whether any sub-species exist. More like a whippet/greyhound in terms of having such a small head...

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 Likewise I look forward to our time together next year and if the stars are in alignment then I might even get to be spending a little more time than you with two more confirmed trips and a provisional third trip that I am starting to fill...

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I think in Chad it's the soemmeringii subspecies, or Sudan cheetah. the cheetah found in East Africa is the East African or Tanzanian cheetah raineyii and the one in Southern Africa it's jubatus. Then there is the North Western African or Sahara cheetah hecki which is very pale, and the Asiatic cheetah venaticus. Sudan and South African cheetah are pretty similar and have only been separated at subspecies level in 2011. I think the picture looks odd because it's either an old individual or some other factors made his face look longer than usual.

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@@Ant Kaschula Thank you for posting your thoughts and photos. The more people who are encouraged to visit Zakouma and therefore support the conservation work of African Parks, the better. Some of us can hope to, but never visit, some of us can visit. Whichever one it is, to be inspired is the key.

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Great photos and writeup; sounds like a stellar experience. Very cool to see this subforum getting more and more activity lately. Love the ele in the road, and the salad looks rather good, as well.

Glad @@egilio has shed some light on the cheetah; I was immediately struck by its unusual appearance. A great photo.

Edited by Marks
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I think in Chad it's the soemmeringii subspecies, or Sudan cheetah. the cheetah found in East Africa is the East African or Tanzanian cheetah raineyii and the one in Southern Africa it's jubatus. Then there is the North Western African or Sahara cheetah hecki which is very pale, and the Asiatic cheetah venaticus. Sudan and South African cheetah are pretty similar and have only been separated at subspecies level in 2011. I think the picture looks odd because it's either an old individual or some other factors made his face look longer than usual.

 

In a nutshell, it is info like this that make ST what it is - an extraordinary resource for wildlife lovers - thanks for sharing @@egilio

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@@Ant Kaschula

 

Needless to say I am looking forward to seeing you later this year on safari in Zimbabwe. This report has already sold me on going to Zakouma. I am looking forward to going there especially since my proposed trip to the Central African Republic and the DRC have had to be delayed. I had no idea that there were such a wide variety of wildlife in Zakouma especially of even cheetahs.

Edited by optig
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@@Ant Kaschula

 

Zakouma looks so amazing. I'm especially interested in the Tiang, Red-fronted Gazelle, and Cheetah. How common are Cheetah sightings in the park?

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"In the last fifteen years or so, I've been extremely privileged to have visited many of what are considered to be some of the top wildlife destinations in Southern and East Africa plus one or two in West Africa and Zakouma easily rivals, and in many cases

surpasses, the very best of them in almost every way."

 

Now that is impressive, as is your specifics of sightings and a whopping 24 new birds.

 

Appreciate all your rankings. Quantifying is helpful. I have one more ranking request and if you choose to issue this rank, please put it in perspective of the typical wildlife viewing countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. (I chose those because that's what I'm familiar with and where I've been.) Please rank on safety for the visitor. I know this can change and it may require a commentary in addition to or instead of a single #. I also saw your comment that "For the time being Chad is safe and African Parks are doing a sterling job."

 

Thank you!

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As regards safety for the visitor, I felt much much more comfortable than I did when I visited in 2011. This time round I had no ill feelings or bad vibes of any sort. Uprisings/kidnappings/suicide bombing/car bombs etc. seem to be happening anywhere in the world and my honest feeling is that it often takes a little time for a situation to develop and if African Parks felt that it was unsafe to visit then I'd go with their recommendations. Personal safety is not guaranteed anywhere so to rank it would be difficult but I'd say that currently safety is in the region of 8/10. There are far worse places in for example Johannesburg & Nairobi that I wouldn't feel comfortable going into...

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  • 4 months later...

Great summary @@Ant Kaschula

Hoped to make it there on a guide expo trip in December but it didn't work out.

Hope to make it to Gonarezhou in the next 2 years at least.

Lovely images too.

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Great summary @@Ant Kaschula

Hoped to make it there on a guide expo trip in December but it didn't work out.

Hope to make it to Gonarezhou in the next 2 years at least.

Lovely images too.

Don't give up hope @@Morkel Erasmus you'll make it there one day

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