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Overland to Zakouma, March 2022


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In mid-March 2022, Pictus Safaris were delighted to take four clients to Zakouma NP, overlanding in and out from N'Djamena via Mongo. It was a fantastic trip, with 40 mammal species recorded, plus 150 bird species without really doing any birding. Given that most visitors tend to fly in, I thought forum members might like to hear a little bit about what it is like to drive in nowadays, as well as to add to the reports from @gatoratlarge, @Zarek Cockarand @inyathifollowing their time in the park just a few weeks before us.

 

As always, it was an immense privilege to spend time in Zakouma - on a personal note, it was disappointing to lose a few days to malaria, but even an abridged stay in Zakouma is a very special one. More to follow.

 

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Kitsafari

Two TRs on spectacular Zakouma? what a treat!

Looking to reading more soon @Pictus Safaris

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ForWildlife

Overland! That could be interesting!

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Let's get started!

 

Abstract:

 

For most on the forum, I am sure Zakouma needs no introduction. The jewel in the crown of both the Sahel, and African Parks' portfolio, the wildlife-viewing here can be stunning. For most, the highlights are the vast herd of bush elephant (although this has now begun to splinter), the impressive congregations of red-billed quelea and waterfowl in and around Rigueik and, of course, the legendary night drives. Most visitors take the two-hour flight in from N'Djamena, now operated by AvMax, but we chose to drive in for a few reasons. The first was that driving offers a very different experience than flying - it is naturally much more immersive, and you get a far better sense of the country, warts and all, from a vehicle. Secondly, we always aim for value for money for our clients, and in a season when so many guides and companies had had to surrender their bookings due to COVID, there was a real risk that guests would have to foot the bill for an empty flight heading the other way if we chose to fly - this was born out with a couple of visitors to Tinga Camp this season, who faced a huge last-minute bill for flights after private guides had pulled out. The drive is a minimum of thirteen hours. It's hot, bumpy and long, but it's a hell of an experience and well worth it in my opinion. Some operators and solo travellers do the drive in a day - this can't be a good idea, and leaves no room for error.

 

The COVID restrictions were removed completely just a week before our arrival into N'Djamena. In some ways, this was a blessing, although it came too late for us to remove the extra days in N'Djamena at the end of the tour. As such, the itinerary looked like this:

 

14th March - Arrival into N'Djamena, overnight at Radisson Blu

15th March - Full day drive, overnight under canvas near Mongo

16th March - Full day drive, arriving at Tinga camp this evening

17th March - 21st March - Zakouma NP

22nd March - Full day drive, overnight under canvas near Mongo

23rd March - Full day drive, overnight at Radisson Blu

24th March - Full day in N'Djamena, PCR tests

25th March - Depart

 

Accommodation:

 

In N'Djamena, the Hilton is long gone and the best/only decent option is the Radisson Blu. It's fine, but not as nice as the Hilton was, and very expensive for what it is. Fortunately, I know the manager, Oumar Ba, from my time in Senegal, which made things a little easier, but generally the level of service was pretty poor throughout our time here, including very long waits for rooms to be available, late airport transfers etc. But it is the best option in N'Djamena.

 

Camping between Zakouma and NDJ is basic but comfortable. We used small dome tents with basic shower and toilet facilities brought with us. Not an option for those who need luxury, but definitely manageable for most for a night.

 

We always use Tinga Camp when visiting Zakouma. Nomade is lovely, of course, but the night drives do tend to be so much better from Tinga. I've seen four of the 'Big Five' (as meaningless as that designation might be) from my room at Tinga, so it really is in a great area. The rooms are a little dated, but very much passable given the remoteness of Zakouma and age of the camp. Meals and drinks are of a good quality. Management and guiding standards are a mixed bag, but with a decent guide or tour leader most of those wrinkles can be ironed out.

 

Access:

 

Getting to Zakouma by road is tricky, but N'Djamena is pretty easy to reach nowadays. It is served regularly by Ethiopian Airlines, Air France, Egyptair and Turkish Airlines. Most use Ethiopian (rubbish, but cheap and reliable) or Air France (slightly better, much less reliable and more expensive).

 

Key Targets:

 

The main aim of any visit to Zakouma must surely be simply to enjoy the experience, and soak in what is an incredible wilderness area. However, there was , as always, a bit of a wish list from our clients:

 

  • Pale fox
  • Wild cat
  • Serval
  • Caracal
  • Honey badger
  • Patas Monkey
  • Red-Flanked Duiker
  • Red-Fronted Gazelle

 

All very much gettable in Zakouma, and we did alright in the end, missing only caracal and honey badger. A day by day to follow!

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inyathi

@Pictus SafarisI will be very interested to read this, I have not seriously considered travelling by road to Zakouma myself, but I researched budget trips that go by road, when the question of budget Zakouma safaris came up back in 2017, my concern with all of the trips that I saw advertised then, is that they just didn’t offer enough time in Zakouma to be worthwhile, they all spent just three whole days in the park. I am glad to see that your trip had five whole days, but then your trips are for serious wildlife people, not just people looking for an adventure somewhere unusual, I wouldn't do a safari to Zakouma that didn't give me at least five full days in the park. Zakouma shouldn’t just be for expats and the very well-off, but for anyone who is determined to get there, so it is great to see that you are offering a decent Zakouma safari, for those who don’t have too much money. Since my last trip, Camp Nomade has just become prohibitively expensive, I doubt if I were ever to go back to Zakouma, that I would stay anywhere other than at Tinga, it’s always been my view that wherever I go on wildlife trips, rooms at lodges are really just for sleeping in and I wish to spend as little other time in the room as possible. So as long as the rooms are good enough and they are at Tinga, then I don’t mind if they’re not fantastic, as I often say I don’t travel to far flung parts of the world to look at the inside of a hotel room.    

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Botswanadreams

@inyathi I'm absolutely sure Eyte Voyages would be happy to organize a road safari to Zakouma as long as you like to stay there. I loved our time in Zakouma very much. It was like being in paradise. For me personalty a perfect safari going back to Zakouma would be 3 nights Tinga, 3 nights camping in the south with a Ranger from African Parks and another 2 or 3 nights Tinga at the end. You need 2 days going to Zakouma (400km from Mongo on dirty road) and another 2 days back. Expats sometime do it in one hard day but say drive by them self.   

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Pictus Safaris

@inyathi- thanks for your kind words. I always strive to offer something different than what is currently on the market. Often this means adding in unusual destinations, or targeting unusual species, but in the case of Zakouma we're certainly focussed on delivering a slightly more affordable option to the park. It certainly seems to be resonating, with 3 trips set to go ahead next year. As you say, we would never do fewer than five full days in the park, and will probably add days over the next few seasons.

 

@Botswanadreamswhat a character Adolfo is - we're proud to work with him on several group and upcoming private itineraries in Chad. That one-dayer must be the day from hell. As I say, no room for error and driving those roads after dark is reserved for those with a death wish. We had numerous mechanical issues with Eyte vehicles on the way back to NDJ, including a pretty dicey brake failure, which further convinced me that two days is the only sane way of driving to/from Zakouma.

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The journey

 

Day 1

 

After the relief of everyone having arrived in one piece yesterday, we were all keen to get on the road this morning. As you might expect, our plan to be on the road by 7am slipped - would it be a visit to Africa if everything ran on time? - but by 7.45 we were bidding the relative comforts of the Radisson Blu goodbye. We had actually ticked our first mammal off the list on day zero, as it were, with the ever-present hippos of the Chari putting in a bit of a show for us. Zakouma is not the place to see hippos, especially in the dry season, so it's always well worth keeping your eyes peeled when by the river. As such, the mammal pressure had lifted slightly, and we could soak in the journey through western and central Chad.

 

The first impression one gets when leaving N'Djamena by road is that the city is surprisingly sprawling. For the first half an hour or so of driving, there is no moment when the road is not lined with people and shops - we took advantage of this by stopping for some fresh produce, including the carcass of a goat that was strapped to the side of one of our vehicles. Eventually, the city begins to subside and, without much warning, it gives way fairly suddenly to a bit of an arid wasteland. The visibility in this part of Chad is exceptionally poor, and the habitat bone-dry - quintessential Chad in some ways. What was less quintessentially Chadian was the complete absence of military/police presence on the roads, with no checkpoints encountered leaving N'Djamena or at any other point in our journey. This was at odds with a markedly increased military presence in N'Djamena compared with previous visits, and a bit of a surprise. The only occasions were had to stop were the regular tolls - given the state of the roads, I'm still not sure what we were paying for, but there you go.

 

Our clients enjoyed their first views of camel trains meandering alongside the road this morning, and the birding was solid. The lasting memory of this morning will undoubtedly be the terrible road conditions. As many forum members will be all too aware, a dirt track is so much better than a poorly-maintained tarmac road, and as soon as we left N'Djamena it was the latter we found ourselves on for several hundred kilometres. Potholes larger than our vehicles were commonplace, and most vehicles, including the 'express coaches' heading to N'Djamena opted to off-road on dirt tracks rather than risk the tarmac. These were to be the worst roads we would face on the journey.

 

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Day One Route

 

We made slow progress this morning, owing primarily to the state of the roads, stopping only briefly in Massaguet. As we reached N'Gousa, we spotted the first signs we were entering Central Chad, with two inselbergs standing above the town - these would become more dramatic and beautiful as we headed east. We stopped for lunch just beyond the town, spying our first striped ground squirrel at our picnic spot. We also got great views of an obliging Egyptian vulture, an unexpected bonus. Unfortunately, it was during this stop that I was hit with the effects of malaria after my stay in Cote d'Ivoire - a plan was made to track down some malaria treatment in Mongo when we got there.

 

It's a drive of just over 500km from N'Djamena to Mongo - a full day even on decent roads. As the real heat of the day set in after lunch, it became clear that we wouldn't quite make Mongo before dark, and we'd come up about 100km short. The roads improved pretty rapidly as we headed south-east, and we managed to get a few hours of decent progress under our belts. Fortunately, the spot we found for a campsite tonight was truly stunning, nestled behind what I can only describe as Spitzkoppe's doppelganger. As we pulled in in the evening light, we enjoyed the sight of around a dozen rock hyrax above us. As we waited for dinner, we were able to listen to the hyraxes cries, and we did well to spotlight a Verreaux's eagle-owl and two red-fronted gazelle. One heart-in-the-mouth moment was a client stepping in a foothold trap just a few metres of camp - luckily, she was unhurt. The owner of said trap came by the following morning and I had plenty to say to him - regrettably, he turned up with a spear, so I kept quieter than I might have. This was really saddening, as Western and Central Africa has avoided, by and large, the plague of traps and snares found in Eastern and Southern Africa, so to see such a trap being used was disheartening in the extreme.

 

After a long wait for dinner, the team was more than ready for some rest after a long day on the road.

 

Day 2

 

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Day 2 Route

 

The planned journey today was just over 300km, plus the 100km or so we hadn't managed yesterday. Before we had even broken camp, we had further excellent views of rock hyrax and tantalus monkeys - common animals, but always a real privilege to see. Within fifteen minutes of departure we encountered our only real moment of hostility throughout the trip. A client was cleaning his binoculars as we pulled into a toll, and the toll-taker took real exception to this, banging on the vehicle windows and eventually having to be pulled back by a soldier. These things happen, and I suspect he thought our client was filming - it's worth saying we probably passed through 20 or so tolling places during the journey, and this was the only, very minor, issue we had.

 

As we approached Mongo, we spotted large troop of olive baboon high on the inselbergs above town. The town itself was a welcome stop for some fresh food, cold drinks, fuel and anti-malarials. It is in Mongo that the temperamental tarmac is completely replaced by dirt roads, which really increases your rate of progress. As we drove, the quality of the birding really picked up - our first Abyssinian ground hornbills, scissor-tailed kites, white-throated bee-eater, red-throated bee-eater and an awful lot more were all easily ticked off. The change in scenery was also notable today, as we had truly left the arid expanse east of N'Djamena behind and entered sparsely wooded savanna, firstly punctuated with succulents and then acacias. Before too long, it looked like a pack of wild dog might burst out of the woodland (wishful thinking) at any moment. A brief lunch stop, and a pause to get around a lorry that had been flipped in impressive style in deep sand, were the only things to break up our journey and by late afternoon we came across the vast wetland that sits just north of the park. The concentrations of livestock here underscore just how vital the ecosystem is at large for the local community (and, of course, why nomadic pastoralists placed such value on the area historically). From here, it was just a half hour or so before a small sign confirmed we had, finally entered Zakouma.

 

The drive from here to Tinga is around an hour, and we quickly spotted our first northern giraffe (ssp. Kordofan), buffalo, roan, Buffon's kob, Defassa waterbuck, Lelwel hartebeest and oodles of elephant tracks. We arrived into Tinga at around 5pm, in time for a well-earned shower before dinner, and to enjoy a lone buffalo bull in the dry riverbed below. After dinner, we set out on our first night drive, seeking out an easy win with a day one sighting of the lions near camp. As it panned out, we dipped on the lions tonight, but we did spotlight several dozen long-tailed and fiery-necked nightjars, African civet, rusty-spotted genet, common genet, white-tailed mongoose, side-striped jackal, African savanna hare, bushbuck, common duiker, buffalo, giraffe, hartebeest and kob. The highlight, though, as it so often is, was at Machtour. A big tom serval was out in the open hunting spur-winged goose, without much success. After a couple of clumsy attempts, he took the classically-male (and feline) approach of pretending he was never really that interested in the geese, and settled in for a long drink instead. The upshot was superb views of this beautiful cat, and a continuation of my having never spent a night in Zakouma without seeing a serval - such are the incredible densities of these cats in the park. All in all, a really solid first night in the park, and one we were so pleased to get under our belts.

 

More to come.

 

 

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anthracosaur

@Pictus SafarisSounds like a superb start to your time in Zakouma. I always enjoy watching the smaller cats hunt. All the talk of and trip reports about Zakouma are turning my eye there.

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Pictus Safaris

Thanks @anthracosaur, it was certainly a decent start to our stint in Zakouma. I can't recommend a visit highly enough - if I could spend all my time bouncing between Niokolo-Koba, Pendjari and Zakouma, I would!

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Falling in love with Rigueik

 

Note: all images courtesy of client Ewan Davies

 

Day 3

 

It is always an immense privilege to be able to share Rigueik with first-time visitors to Zakouma. For those not familiar with the area, Rigueik Pan is the large area of wetland for which Zakouma is perhaps most famous, as it draws in incredible densities of birdlife and mammal species. Under normal circumstances, guests staying at Tinga play second fiddle to those staying at the more upmarket Camp Nomade - in other words, if Nomade guests wish to stay at Rigueik, Tinga guests will have to spend time elsewhere. As luck would have it, Nomade would be standing empty throughout our stay, so we would have unfettered access to Rigueik. We wasted no time and headed directly to the pan this morning.

 

Before we reached Rigueik, we bumped into a young male lion, who was particularly photogenic. As many on the forum will know, the manes of the lions in West and Central Africa are much smaller than those of their cousins further east and south, and studies have shown that these lions are in fact more closely related to the Asiatic lions of Gir in India than those elsewhere on the continent. This is born out in the smaller body size, smaller manes and more pronounced longitudinal fold of skin on the belly (much more noticeable in Pendjari/Niokolo-Koba than in Zakouma). Nonetheless, these lions are very attractive, and it is encouraging that this year has been the best for lion sightings I have ever known in the park. The team in Zakouma are still puzzled as to why the population isn't growing, especially as almost every lioness we saw had at least three cubs in tow, so it's fair to assume that cub mortality must be sky-high in the park for one reason or another.

 

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A good example of a young Zakouma lion

 

Soon enough, we arrived at the stunning Rigueik, which was in great form. The number of ungulates and other mammals was massive - dozens, if not hundreds, of Bohor reedbuck, tiang, buffalo, giraffe, common warthog, Defassa waterbuck, Buffon's kob and much more dotted the landscape. The flocks of red-billed quelea for which Rigueik is famous did not materialise in their millions this morning - perhaps a few thousand at most - and these were to be conspicuous by their absence throughout our stay. After chatting to a few of the other guys around camp, it sounded like this season just hadn't produced the usual gatherings of quelea, yet, and the expectation was that they might amass later in the season.

 

After a superb morning at Rigueik, our afternoon drive focussed on the dry-country close to Tinga and the park HQ. We picked up our first pair of oribi and an unusually calm common duiker before swinging in to park HQ to admire the elephant bulls that hang out here. Back in the day, these bulls used to gather at park HQ to seek safety from the unrestricted poaching that decimated the park - old habits die hard, and these guys still loiter around, particularly as they get watered here regularly by AP staff. The rest of the drive revealed the more generic game of the park, although we did pick up the fairly-localised red-fronted gazelle not far from camp.

 

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Elephant bull at park HQ

 

This evening the team fly-camped south of Tinga, with a short night drive in the area revealing our first spotted hyena, an absolute mountain of civets, another serval and the lovely red-flanked duiker. These duikers are generally exclusively crepuscular elsewhere in their range, but for some reason do tent to be more nocturnal in Zakouma. Perhaps it's the heat, or a response to some sort of diurnal predation, but to be honest that is all purely conjecture. A restful 'night under the stars' followed.

 

Day 4

 

Today was to be very much a lion day! We once again returned to Rigueik, and the wildlife-viewing en route was very good. Our first spot was a striped ground squirrel, common throughout the park, and a very skittish colony of banded mongoose. The highlight though was a large Central African rock python lazing next to the road. There was some concern about its wellbeing, but it was moving well and responsive to our presence. The pictures do show an awful lot of stuck shed, but this is common in areas with low humidity such as Zakouma. Come the wet season, a lot of that will come off naturally, at which point this beast will look even more impressive, I'm sure. We also picked up a pair of side-striped jackals, before locating several apparently-asleep lionesses not far from the pan. This looked like a classic case of 'flat cat', and had they been left undisturbed, I'm sure they would have happily laid there all day. As luck would have it though, a family of warthogs stumbled across them not long after we did, and one lioness sprang from her prone position with admirable agility. A short and very dusty chase ensued, ultimately ending with a near miss - but a great shot of adrenaline for all watching! Two more lionesses were relaxing in the shade of a bush a short drive further on. Rigueik again produced ample viewing of a range of species, making our visit once more incredibly special.

 

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Central African Rock Python

 

Our afternoon drive was dominated by multiple sightings of bull elephants, always a real privilege given the history of elephants in this part of the world. Not far from Rigueik, we were able to spend a good amount of time with the largest pride of lions we saw all trip - nine individuals (three lionesses and six cubs). Aside from the ellies and lions, the birding and general mammal-watching was excellent and, as we trundled back for dinner, we picked up another serval, white-tailed mongoose and plenty of rusty-spotted genets. 

 

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A subset of the pride of nine lions

 

A short night drive after dinner, curtailed by a broken spotlight, delivered close views of two serval - the best views of the trip by all accounts - and about a dozen rusty-spotted genets, plus one common genet. We were treated to a prolonged view of a large male lion scent-marking in front of the vehicle, as well as three lionesses crossing the road in a hurry in front of us. Our daily total for lions was 18, a decent haul, plus three servals and plenty more - another very solid day in Zakouma. 

 

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One of Zakouma's most common residents, the serval

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An elephant day without the elephants

 

Day 5

 

Today was to be a full-on day, initially taking the group out of the park to a local market, before looping back to Rigueik to enjoy more of what Zakouma has to offer. Visiting the local market is always an enjoyable and valuable experience for guests - I'd particularly recommend it for fly-in guests, as it is pretty much your only opportunity to interact with Chadian people outside of the park. The game-viewing en route was again rewarding, with two side-striped jackals and three unattended adolescent lions next to the main road leaving the park. The overwhelming feedback after a short time at the market though was that it was seriously hot, with the temperature well in excess of 40 degrees, our clients were keen to make a move back to a shady spot in the park in rather short order! Nonetheless, an enjoyable hour or so was spent picking up a few souvenirs, as well as grabbing a few 'selfies' with the local camels.

 

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One of the three unattended lions seen this morning

 

En route to Rigueik, the group encountered their first Patas monkeys of the trip. Unless you've spent time in West Africa or Northern Uganda, you're unlikely to have picked up these attractive, if skittish, primates, and getting a photo can be tricky. In fact, this species offered very few photographic opportunities during our whole stay - your best chance is generally catching them well out in the open. Rigueik was, as always, in excellent form, producing another lone male lion before our group settled down in some shade and waited for the evening to set in. There are few views better of the giraffe, tiang and reedbuck as they mill around Rigueik. A few thousand red-billed quelea did put in an appearance as we waited, but again in far smaller numbers than in previous seasons.

 

The evening drive delivered plenty, including a particularly large monitor, a huge herd of buffalo cloaked in dust and two lionesses lazing at the edge of the wetland. As is normal in Zakouma, there were few moments this evening where there wasn't something to admire and, whilst there might not have been a stand-out sighting, it certainly flew by.

 

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A chunky monitor

 

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A typical scene at the edge of Rigueik

 

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Tiang, buffalo, waterbuck and giraffe

 

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Sunset near Rigueik

 

As darkness began to set in, spotlights revealed another serval (surprise, surprise) and a local special, the white-tailed mongoose with a black tail. I've never encountered this pseudo-melanistic quirk in any other population of white-tailed mongooses, but am sure it can't be altogether uncommon. The haul on the way back to camp consisted again of plenty of galagos, civets, genets and probably hundreds of nightjars. 

 

Day 6

 

Elephant day! Today was to be dedicated in its entirety to tracking down the splintered groups that once made up the vast herd of elephants in Zakouma. The 600+ herd of elephant is nowadays rarely found together, but various subsets still hang out in slightly looser associations, a great sign that the removal of poaching pressure is being reflected in elephant behaviour. The largest single group tends to vary in size from 200-350 elephants, which is of course still a remarkable sight.

 

Today got off to a slightly rocky start though, as a couple of group of expats had arrived in Tinga, including an impossibly loud group from the US embassy in N'Djamena. Despite their excellent 'Chad is rad' t-shirts, we certainly didn't want to be anywhere near this group today, but the team at Tinga had made a bit of a mis-step and sent us all out in convoy. It took some fairly heated discussions to persuade the local guides to breakaway from this main group, and we headed off under our own steam, relieved to get a bit of peace and quiet. 

 

Based on the information we had from the local guides, and the park HQ, the ellies were hanging out on the banks of the Salamat River. There was bountiful sign that a big herd of elephant was in the area, and we drove up and down this section of river, sticking our nose in at any point that gave us a decent view of the river itself. The general game-viewing was rewarding, with some delightfully tiny ostrich chicks and a family of Patas monkey being the highlights. The birding was also excellent, as we picked up bronze-winged courser and several Egyptian plovers picked up on our travels. As we drove, we could hear the elephants rumbling and trumpeting on the far bank of the river but, alas, we just couldn't get a visual this morning. We settled down on the banks of the river for lunch and a siesta.

 

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One of several Egyptian plovers seen in Zakouma (also easily seen in N'Djamena)

 

We got back to it by mid-afternoon, again following the river as closely as we could. We did pick up a lone bull elephant on the southern bank, but no more ellies were in the mood to show themselves. We got a radio call in the early evening that a smaller subset of the herd was further north, but we again couldn't get a view of them. We did, however, pick up a lone lioness and, not far away, a lion drinking at a pan, much to the chagrin of the giraffes and kob in the area. Eventually, we simply ran out of daylight, and we had to admit to a slightly embarrassing defeat - not having been able to find one of the largest herds of elephant in the world. A small consolation prize were the attractive yellow-winged bats on the way back to camp.

 

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Even if the elephants are hiding, the vultures will always put on a show!

 

Unsurprisingly, most of the team were exhausted after a full day in the field, so it was just one client and myself on night drive tonight. This was a shame, as it turned out to be an excellent drive. We had ticked off three species (civet, galago and rusty-spotted genet) before leaving camp, and we stumbled across our first pale fox just 200m or so away from camp on the main track to HQ. We got superb views of this delightful animal, even if it was just too quick for our client's camera. A slow trawl past HQ gave up side-striped jackal, serval, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, kob, common duiker and much more tonight, but it was certainly the pale fox we were most pleased with, with it being a lifer for our client.

 

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African Civet in camp

 

We were back in camp by about 10pm tonight and I don't think I've ever slept so soundly, even with the lions roaring a short distance away.

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offshorebirder

I apologize for the Ugly Americans @Pictus Safaris.   

 

One would expect more diplomatic and subtle behavior from one's embassy, but the USA is not what it once was.   For each of us that strives to be correct, there is a lummox or two that negates us.

 

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Pictus Safaris

Haha @offshorebirder, I certainly know better than to generalise off the back of one group or individual's behaviour. I suspect the primary issue was the amount of alcohol being consumed. For the record, I have found all of our US clients to be unerringly conscientious, kind-spirited and open-minded. And I'm still desperate to get my hands on a 'Chad is rad' t-shirt.

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gatoratlarge

Still enjoying this report---what were your specific dates?  We overlapped with some of the embassy crowd ourselves --- however we were told the US Ambassador had just been there (the week prior?) with a huge entourage which for security purposes is standard procedure these days apparently.  But there was a large group of young people from multiple embassies there almost throughout our stay as well...we must have just missed each other!  Our dates in Zakouma were Feb 26 through March 4...give a day or two :)

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Pictus Safaris

Hi @gatoratlarge, glad you like the TR so far.

 

We arrived on the 16th March, departing on the 22nd. I think the embassies sent their staff in tranches (I guess you can't just empty the embassy for a weekend safari!), which makes me wonder how large the US embassy in N'Djamena is. The UK has no diplomatic representation in Chad at all, with everything handled in Cameroon, and even when we do have embassies in the region they sometimes consist of only 3 or 4 personnel. Strange that there seem to be so many US staff in Chad, but I suppose the geopolitical landscape may necessitate it.

 

Speaking of security, I was surprised to see that AP seem to have become a bit more conservative when it comes to groups being out and about outside the park limits. When we left the park to visit the market, or for hospital treatment in Am Timan, we were constantly escorted by an armed guard. I've never known this in previous visits, and I wonder what, if anything, has changed. The whole thing felt a bit unnecessary, as well as wasting a seat in the vehicle. Better safe than sorry, of course, but it did seem a little odd. 

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Pictus Safaris

A final day to remember

 

Day 8

 

Our last full day in Zakouma - a bittersweet day, as you begin to feel the safari coming to an end. Half the group opted for a walking safari this morning, with the others going out for a drive. The walk was very productive, with good views of several antelope species, including kob and hartebeest, as well as a lovely procession of roan near camp.

 

Our morning drive was familiar, taking us to Machtour, where the giraffes were represented in their dozens, before looping around to Rigueik. The lion-viewing was again superb here. We came across a beautiful male quite quickly, with the remains of a kob kill a few metres away. It quickly became apparent, though, that this was not his kill, as a lioness was snarling away in the bushes about thirty yards away, no doubt a bit miffed that her hard work was going unrewarded. On closer inspection, this lioness had four very young cubs in attendance - undoubtedly the cutest sighting of the tour. They were deeply inquisitive and wonderfully active, making for some great photo opportunities. Given the proximity of the male, though, we didn't dawdle too long, to avoid drawing his attention to the cubs too closely.

 

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A short distance on, we came across a lovely herd of buffalo, complete with several orange members that would not have looked out of place at Dzanga Bai, with their fringed ears and stunted build - an attractive lone roan had also joined the herd. A lone lioness was laid up just around the corner, already fully 'flat cat' as the heat of the day began to build. Our meander back to camp thereafter was rife with the 'generic' game for which Zakouma is so reliable, but a highlight was another large collection of ostrich chicks - on no previous visit have I seen so many ostrich chicks, so it seems the population is doing well.

 

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Ostrich chicks

 

This afternoon, we decided to have one final stab at the queleas near Rigueik. Alas, our efforts were to go unrewarded, but we did enjoy some wonderful views of the Rigueik giraffes at sunset, as well as a few thousand quelea in fits and spurts. At sundowners, we enjoyed a flock of a few hundred pelicans as we toasted a hugely enjoyable stay in the park.

 

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Giraffe with pelicans

 

The day wasn't over though, and once darkness had set in, we made our way back towards Machtour. We quickly picked up a very vocal spotted hyena, on its lonesome for now, and also got a very close, if brief, view of another pale fox. About fifteen minutes later, it became apparent why our hyena had been so vocal and in such a hurry, as a clan of about half a dozen were mobbing a young lioness and the, particularly pongy, remains of a kill were at stake. It appeared the lioness had had a decent feed but, for whatever reason (perhaps inexperience), she insisted on scrapping with the hyenas for the last few titbits of her meal. She was outnumbered, though, and lost out pretty quickly - always immensely interesting to see these species interact.

 

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Lioness with spotted hyena

 

As we hit the main road back to Tinga, we began to pick up the litany of genets and civets one sees every night in Zakouma. Right by park HQ we stopped for a genet and, as I always do, I scanned away from the genet to see what else we could pick up whilst stationary. To our delight, a wild cat was staring back at us just a few metres in front of the vehicle - she was a little skittish, but we got excellent views as she slunk off into the darkness.

 

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The best we could get of the wild cat

 

Our longer night drive after dinner was a little slower than our evening drive, but we did pick up the black-tailed white-tailed mongoose, plenty of civets and genets, galagos and a lone elephant bull. Listening to him chew as we switched off the engine is a really humbling experience given the history of elephants in the park - the fact that both he and we could sit quietly in each other's presence was quite something. Late on in the drive, we finally picked up a serval, which was a bit of a relief as it preserved my having seen a serval every night I have spent in Zakouma, before reluctantly returning to camp for some rest.

 

Day 9

 

Saying goodbye to Zakouma is always hard. Our hour-long drive out allowed us a chance to get one last view of kob, roan, hartebeest, waterbuck, warthog, giraffe and elephant, before beginning the long drive back to N'Djamena. We made excellent progress today, stopping regularly for our drivers' cigarette breaks and on one occasion to greet a couple of guys heading in to Zakouma. They had some odd ideas about the park, and seemed surprised we hadn't seen rhino. They were also excited about getting their drones up, which always raises my hackles a little, as there are few things more annoying and disruptive to wildlife on safari than drones. I was slightly amazed they hadn't been seized already by someone in NDJ.

 

We passed through Mongo by mid-afternoon, and stopped for the evening at a rather uninspiring spot about 150km west.

 

Day 10

 

One final push brought us back to N'Djamena today, but what an eventful day it was. Early on, we picked up a flat - remarkably, our first of the trip. No matter, and it was resolved fairly quickly. But a slightly trickier issue was in store when, at about 120km/h, the brakes in our vehicle completely failed. That's a problem even on the best roads, but on a tarmac road littered with deep potholes, it was potentially even more of a headache. Another slice of bad luck was that we had three vehicles, from both SVS and Eyte, in front of us when this happened. Credit to our driver Brahim, who generally was not a great driver, but did manage to navigate the vehicles and the potholes and eventually bring us to a stop. We were, however, in the middle of nowhere and there was no easy fix. It was arranged that a vehicle would leave N'Djamena and come to meet us but, if we wanted to be back before dark, we would have to continue and meet them halfway. What followed was about 180km of the most hair-raising driving I've witnessed in Africa, as we dodged pothole after pothole, with only one major miscalculation. Remarkably, we made it to the support vehicle in one piece, and continued on to N'Djamena. 

 

As we reached the city, we were brought to a halt by a large military presence and a series of burning tyres in the middle of the road. There were very few people around, so it was unclear what this protest was about, but definitely an unusual welcome back to the city. We finally reached the Radisson by early evening, ready for a shower. The staff didn't have the rooms ready, and after a slightly torturous 90-minute wait, we were finally able to relax, grab some room service and catch up on some rest.

 

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A hippo from the Radisson Blu

 

Over the next few days, our clients returned safely home after a thoroughly enjoyable trip. I hope this TR has been enjoyable and at least a little useful to forum members - a full bird and mammal list to follow.

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Photo-Kiboko

Thank you for the TR to Zakouma.

 

I did a similar trip with Adolfo in April 2019.

I could spent five days in Zakouma.

I could take plenty of pictures during the overland ride to the park.

The overland ride is very interesting.

You can see much more from a country compared to a fly-in Safari.

You need two travel days in each direction.

Even two days are hard for the driver.

The road conditions require a high level of concentration all the time.

On the first day, we had to stay about 100km before Mongo.

On the return day, we have started after the morning game drive.

 

It was a group tour, booked by a German Travel Agency.

However, there were only two people.

The other guy was a "country counter" and not very interested in Safari.

 

Adolfo is a very nice person and a good driver.

Fortunately, we had no problems with the car, except a flat.

 

@inyathi: I agree with @Botswanadreams .

Eyte Voyges can organize a tour with a longer stay in Zakouma.

However, it depends on availablilty.

He is doing trips to Tibesti and Ennedi, too.

 

Best regards

Bernd

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Kitsafari

thanks @Pictus Safaris for a marvellous ride through Zakouma. really nice to see the spotted hyenas! and the wild cat too. 

 

 

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Atravelynn

Great report!  Note to self:  Watch where the feet go to avoid animal traps and don't clean binoculars at toll booths.  Driving in could offer a nice savings.  Thanks for sharing all of this.

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Pictus Safaris

@Photo-Kibokoyou're most welcome, and I'm glad to hear you also had a superb time in Zakouma

 

@Kitsafari- my pleasure. Yes, the wild cat was a delightful surprise at a genet sighting.

 

@Atravelynn- a privilege for me to be able to share the trip with you. I hope I didn't overstate the hair-raising moments on the journeys to/from Zakouma, and I can't recommend the journey highly enough.

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Pictus Safaris

Mammal List - 40 Species

 

 

Species

Scientific Name

Location(s)*

Carnivora – 12 species

African Civet

Civettictis civetta

ZNP

Spotted Hyena

Crocuta crocuta

ZNP

Wild Cat

Felis silvestris

ZNP

Common Genet

Genetta genetta

ZNP

Rusty-Spotted Genet

Genetta maculata

ZNP

Common Slender Mongoose

Herpestes sanguineus

ZNP

White-Tailed Mongoose

Ichneumia albicauda

ZNP

Serval

Leptailurus serval

ZNP

Side-Striped Jackal

Lupulella adusta

ZNP

Banded Mongoose

Mungos mungo

ZNP

Lion

Panthera leo

ZNP

Pale Fox

Vulpes pallida

ZNP

Cetartiodactyla – 14 species

(Lelwel) Hartebeest

Alcelaphus buselaphus

ZNP

Red-Flanked Duiker

Cephalophus rufilatus

ZNP

Topi (Tiang)

Damaliscus lunatus

ZNP

Red-Fronted Gazelle

Eudorcas rufifrons

M, ZNP

Northern Giraffe

Giraffa camelopardalis

ZNP

Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus amphibius

NDJ

Roan Antelope

Hippotragus equinus

ZNP

(Defassa) Waterbuck

Kobus ellipsiprymnus

ZNP

(Buffon’s) Kob

Kobus kob

ZNP

Common Warthog

Phacochoerus africanus

M, ZNP

Bohor Reedbuck

Redunca redunca

ZNP

Common Duiker

Sylvicapra grimmia

ZNP

African Buffalo

Syncerus caffer

ZNP

Bushbuck

Tragelaphus scriptus

ZNP

Chiroptera – 5 species

Ansorge’s Wrinkle-Lipped Bat

Chaerephon ansorgei

ZNP

Little Free-Tailed Bat

Chaerephon pumilus

ZNP

Yellow-Winged Bat

Lavia frons

ZNP

Common Bent-Wing Bat

Miniopterus schreibersii

ZNP

Rendall’s Serotine

Neoromicia rendalli

ZNP

Eulipotyphla – 1 species

Savanna Shrew

Crocidura fulvastra

ZNP

Hyracoidea – 1 species

Rock Hyrax

Procavia capensis

M

Lagomorpha – 1 species

African Savanna Hare

Lepus victoriae

ZNP

Primates – 4 species

Tantalus Monkey

Chlorocebus tantalus

M, ZNP

Patas Monkey

Erythrocebus patas

ZNP

Northern Lesser Galago

Galago senegalensis

ZNP

Olive Baboon

Papio anubis

ZNP

Proboscidea – 1 species

African Savanna Elephant

Loxodonta africana

ZNP

Rodentia – 1 species

Striped Ground Squirrel

Xerus erythropus

M, ZNP

 

Bird List: - 150 species

 

 

 

Species

Scientific Name

Location(s)*

Accipitriformes – 22 species

Tawny Eagle

Aquila rapax

ZNP

Grasshopper Buzzard

Butastur rufipennis

M, ZNP

Scissor-Tailed Kite

Chelictinia riocourii

M

Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle

Circaetus beaudouini

ZNP

Brown Snake-Eagle

Circaetus cinereus

M, ZNP

Western Marsh Harrier

Circus aeruginosus

ZNP

Pallid Harrier

Circus macrourus

ZNP

Montagu’s Harrier

Circus pygargus

ZNP

Black-Winged Kite

Elanus caeruleus

M, ZNP

White-Backed Vulture

Gyps africanus

NDJ, M, ZNP

African Fish Eagle

Haliaeetus vocifer

ZNP

Wahlberg’s Eagle

Hieraaetus wahlbergi

M

Lizard Buzzard

Kaupifalco monogrammicus

ZNP

Long-Crested Eagle

Lophaetus occipitalis

M, ZNP

Dark-Chanting Goshawk

Melierax metabates

ZNP

Gabar Goshawk

Micronisus gabar

ZNP

Yellow-Billed Kite

Milvus aegyptius

NDJ, M, ZNP

Hooded Vulture

Necrosyrtes monachus

ZNP

Egyptian Vulture

Neophron percnopterus

M

Gymnogene

Polyboroides typus

M, ZNP

Bateleur

Terathopius ecaudatus

M, ZNP

Lappet-Faced Vulture

Torgos tracheliotos

ZNP

Anseriformes – 6 species

Egyptian Goose

Alopochen aegyptiaca

ZNP

Fulvous Whistling Duck

Dendrocygna bicolor

ZNP

White-Faced Whistling Duck

Dendrocygna viduata

ZNP

Spur-Winged Goose

Plectropterus gambensis

ZNP

African Comb Duck

Sarkidiornis melanotos

ZNP

Northern Shoveler

Spatula clypeata

ZNP

Bucerotiformes – 6 species

Northern Ground Hornbill

Bucorvus abyssinicus

M, ZNP

African Grey Hornbill

Lophoceros nasutus

M, ZNP

Green Woodhoopoe

Phoeniculus purpureus

M, ZNP

Black Scimitarbill

Rhinopomastus aterrimus

M

Red-Billed Hornbill

Tockus erythrorhynchus

M, ZNP

Common Hoopoe

Upupa epops

M, ZNP

Caprimulgiformes – 6 species

Little Swift

Apus affinis

ZNP

Common Swift

Apus apus

ZNP

Long-Tailed Nightjar

Caprimulgus climacurus

ZNP

Plain Nightjar

Caprimulgus inornatus

ZNP

Standard-Winged Nightjar

Caprimulgus longipennis

ZNP

African Palm-Swift

Cypsiurus parvus

ZNP

Charadriiformes – 14 species

Common Sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos

NDJ, ZNP

African Jacana

Actophilornis africanus

NDJ, ZNP

Spotted Thick-Knee

Burhinus capensis

ZNP

Senegal Thick-Knee

Burhinus senegalensis

ZNP

Ruff

Calidris pugnax

NDJ

Black-Winged Pratincole

Glareola nordmanni

ZNP

Collared Pratincole

Glareola pratincola

ZNP

Black-Winged Stilt

Himantopus himantopus

NDJ, ZNP

Black-Tailed Godwit

Limosa limosa

ZNP

Egyptian Plover

Pluvianus aegyptius

ZNP

Bronze-Winged Courser

Rhinoptilus chalcopterus

ZNP

Wood Sandpiper

Tringa glareola

NDJ

Spur-Winged Lapwing

Vanellus spinosus

NDJ

Black-Headed Lapwing

Vanellus tectus

ZNP

Ciconiiformes – 6 species

African Openbill

Anastomus lamelligerus

NDJ, ZNP

White Stork

Ciconia ciconia

ZNP

African Woollyneck

Ciconia microscelis

ZNP

Saddle-Billed Stork

Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis

ZNP

Marabou

Leptoptilos crumenifer

ZNP

Yellow-Billed Stork

Mycteria ibis

ZNP

Columbiformes – 8 species

Speckled Pigeon

Columba guinea

NDJ, ZNP

Namaqua Dove

Oena capensis

NDJ, M, ZNP

Laughing Dove

Spilopelia senegalensis

ZNP

Mourning Collared Dove

Streptopelia decipiens

ZNP

African Collared Dove

Streptopelia roseogrisea

ZNP

Red-Eyed Dove

Streptopelia semitorquata

ZNP

Vinaceous Dove

Streptopelia vinacea

ZNP

Black-Billed Wood Dove

Turtur abyssinicus

ZNP

Coraciiformes – 9 species

Pied Kingfisher

Ceryle rudis

NDJ, ZNP

Abyssinian Roller

Coracias abyssinicus

M, ZNP

European Roller

Coracias garrulus

ZNP

Grey-Headed Kingfisher

Halycon leucocephala

M

White-Throated Bee-Eater

Merops albicollis

ZNP

Red-Throated Bee-Eater

Merops bulocki

M, ZNP

Northern Carmine Bee-Eater

Merops nubicus

M, ZNP

Little Bee-Eater

Merops pusillus

M, ZNP

African Green Bee-Eater

Merops viridissimus

M, ZNP

Cuculiformes – 3 species

Senegal Coucal

Centropus senegalensis

ZNP

Jacobin Cuckoo

Clamator jacobinus

M

African Cuckoo

Cuculus gularis

M

Falconiformes – 5 species

Fox Kestrel

Falco alopex

ZNP

Grey Kestrel

Falco ardosiaceus

ZNP

Lanner Falcon

Falco biarmicus

M

Lesser Kestrel

Falco naumanni

M, ZNP

Common Kestrel

Falco tinnunculus

ZNP

Galliformes – 1 species

Helmeted Guineafowl

Numida meleagris

M, ZNP

Gruiformes – 1 species

Black-Crowned Crane

Balearica pavonina

ZNP

Otidiformes – 1 species

Black-Bellied Bustard

Lissotis melanogaster

ZNP

Passeriformes –  36 species

Cut-Throat Finch

Amadina fasciata

ZNP

White-Billed Buffalo Weaver

Bubalornis albirostris

M

Yellow-Billed Oxpecker

Buphagus africanus

ZNP

Rufous-Tailed Scrub-Robin

Cercotrichas galactotes

ZNP

Scarlet-Chested Sunbird

Chalcomitra senegalensis

ZNP

Beautiful Sunbird

Cinnyris pulchellus

ZNP

Pied Crow

Corvus albus

NDJ, M, ZNP

White-Rumped Seedeater

Crithagra leucopygia

ZNP

Yellow-Fronted Canary

Crithagra mozambica

M

Fork-Tailed Drongo

Dicrurus adsimilis

M, ZNP

Black-Rumped Waxbill

Estrilda troglodytes

M, ZNP

Lavender Waxbill

Glaucestrilda caerulescens

ZNP

Ethiopian Swallow

Hirundo aethiopica

ZNP

Olivaceous Warbler

Iduna pallida

ZNP

Red-Billed Firefinch

Lagonostricta senegala

ZNP

Long-Tailed Glossy Starling

Lamprotonis caudatus

M, ZNP

Greater Blue-Eared Starling

Lamprotornis chalybaeus

M, ZNP

Lesser Blue-Eared Starling

Lamprotornis chloropterus

ZNP

Black-Headed Gonolek

Laniarius erythrogaster

ZNP

Red-Backed Shrike

Lanius collurio

ZNP

Grey-Backed Fiscal

Lanius excubitoroides

ZNP

Western Yellow Wagtail

Motacilla flava

M

Northern Wheatear

Oenanthe oenanthe

ZNP

Northern Grey-Headed Sparrow

Passer griseus

NDJ, M, ZNP

Common Redstart

Phoenicurus phoenicurus

ZNP

Village Weaver

Ploceus cucullatus

M, ZNP

Piapiac

Ptilostomus afer

NDJ

Common Bulbul

Pycnonotus barbatus

ZNP

Green-Winged Pytilia

Pytilia melba

ZNP

Red-Billed Quelea

Quelea quelea

M, ZNP

Bronze Mannikin

Spermestes cucullata

ZNP

Garden Warbler

Sylvia borin

ZNP

Black-Crowned Tchagra

Tchagra senegalus

ZNP

African Paradise-Flycatcher

Terpsiphone viridis

ZNP

Red-Cheeked Cordon-Bleu

Uraeginthus bengalus

ZNP

Northern Yellow White-Eye

Zosterops senegalensis

ZNP

Pelecaniiformes – 16 species

Great White Egret

Ardea alba

NDJ, ZNP

Intermediate Egret

Ardea brachyrhyncha

NDJ, ZNP

Grey Heron

Ardea cinerea

NDJ, ZNP

Goliath Heron

Ardea goliath

NDJ, ZNP

Black-Headed Heron

Ardea melanocephala

NDJ, ZNP

Purple Heron

Ardea purpurea

NDJ, ZNP

Squacco Heron

Ardeola ralloides

ZNP

Hadada Ibis

Bostrychia hagedash

ZNP

Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis

NDJ, ZNP

Green-Backed Heron

Butorides striata

ZNP

Little Egret

Egretta garzetta

NDJ, ZNP

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Nycticorax nycticorax

ZNP

Great White Pelican

Pelecanus onocrotalus

ZNP

Glossy Ibis

Plegadis falcinellus

NDJ, ZNP

Hamerkop

Scopus umbretta

M, ZNP

African Sacred Ibis

Threskiornis aethiopicus

ZNP

Piciformes – 3 species

Fine-Spotted Woodpecker

Campethera punctuligera

ZNP

Vieillot’s Barbet

Lybius vieilloti

M

Yellow-Fronted Tinkerbird

Pogoniulus chrysoconus

ZNP

Psittaciformes – 1 species

Rose-Ringed Parakeet

Alexandrinus krameri

ZNP

Pterocliformes – 1 species

Four-Banded Sandgrouse

Pterocles quadricinctus

ZNP

Strigiformes – 2 species

Greyish Eagle-Owl

Bubo cinerascens

ZNP

Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl

Bubo lacteus

M

Struthioniformes – 1 species

Common Ostrich

Struthio camelus

ZNP

Suliformes – 2 species

African Darter

Anhinga rufa

NDJ

Long-Tailed Cormorant

Microcarbo africanus

NDJ, ZNP

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  • 3 weeks later...
Galago

Such an interesting report, thank you.  Having visited ZNP twice, (once at Nomade, once at Tinga), it was fun to relive some of the sightings like the wonderful Machtour and nightly servals.  Very envious of your pale fox sightings though! 

I'd not heard of your company and, on looking at the website, I see you're based just down the road from me.  Small world, eh?

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