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Chad 2024 with Chalo Africa


Zarek Cockar

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Zarek Cockar

Sometime last year, I received an email from @Sangeetaand the team from Chalo Africa asking if I was available to guide their Chad trip in 2024. I first visited Chad in 2020, where I guided only the Zakouma National Park portion of their trip.  I got back to Nairobi 2 days before Corona locked Kenya up and threw away the key. Phew. 

2021 wasn't meant to be. 2022 came around and things were opening up again. @gatoratlargewas working with Chalo to organise another Chad trip, one of the first since COVID. I was honoured to join that trip, taking my first trip up north to Ennedi and to Ouadi Rime Ouadi Achim and then continuing on to Zakouma (you can read that trip report HERE). I was in absolute awe. I'd already fallen in love with Chad, but now I was 100% smitten. 

I couldn't wait to get back. Here's a quick little trip report with a few photos. I'm afraid I don't have the journalistic flare or the photographic skill that @gatoratlargehad when writing the report 2 years ago. But perhaps a few of you will find this interesting, and I hope (fingers tightly crossed) that it might whet some of your appetites to join me next year!

 

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Zarek Cockar

We all landed in N'djamena and made our way to Hotel La Residence, quite literally around the corner from the airport. Previous groups have usually stayed at the Radisson Blu, which has a nice view of the Chari River, but their habit of making a mess of bookings, not having rooms ready, charging for meals and drinks already paid for, and just generally being incompetent meant that La Residence was a much better option. 

After lunch, we took a little 'city tour', which included a stop at a bureau de change, a stop to buy SIM cards, a cheesy little tourist market, and little walk around at the 'Place de la Nation' (a square with a grandiose arch, some sculptures, and heroic looking statues which serves as a focus point for national holiday parades).  We later stopped by the Radisson Blu to look over the Chari River from their rooftop restaurant. And there was my faithful hippo. First wild mammal of the trip!

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The rest of the day was uneventful, and we all had dinner together back at the hotel. 

The following morning, we woke up early for breakfast and a transfer back to the airport for our charter flight up to Ouadi Doum, an air force airstrip just south of the town of Ounianga Kebir, our primary destination for the day. There is an airstrip at Ounianga, but most of it is too soft and sandy for a plane to land on, so the charter company had made an executive decision to get permission from the air force to land at their base instead. 

The 2 hour flight took us north-northeast from NDJ, first over dry plains and then into flat sandy desert, with scattered crescent-shaped dunes. The prevailing wind from the northeast blows sand in straight lines, cutting through the sandstone surface, creating fascinating patterns of scars. The clouds above us (uncharacteristic at this time of year) seemed to mirror the shapes in the sand below.

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On arrival at Ouadi Doum (pronounced wadi doom), our pilots were a little anxious about where to put the plane that wouldn't upset the soldiers, armed to the teeth, now careening towards us at full speed in 2 land cruiser pickups. In the end, there was nothing to fear, as they all hopped out of the pickups with big smiles and friendly waves, instructing us to park a little further down the runway, which was made out of interlocking metal plates.  The wreckage of a civilian plane not so different from our own was a fun little addition to the scene.

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Soon Adolfo, our ground handler, and his crew pulled up ready to load our bags, and we were on our way. Passing the shelled out remains of a Libyan heavy machinery transporter and a few other vehicles from various skirmishes over the decades added a little flare to the so-far flat sandscape. But slowly be began to weave between ever-larger dunes, all in the characteristic crescent shape cut by the wind, until we found a good spot for a bit of lunch, and a leg stretch. 

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The drive to Ounianga Kebir (I'm calling it OuK from now on) took around 2 hours, and other than some interesting decisions by our drivers, was uneventful.  I took a few photos along this stretch, as there was actually some beautiful scenery, but I'm afraid they look rather dull, now that I'm looking at them again, and I'm hesitant to share them here in case it gives the impression this landscape is boring. It isn't. 
Once in OuK, we had to make some arrangements with the local headman, show proof of our permission to be there, and just generally hang around for 'officials' to do 'official' 'officialing'. Several lorries on their way south from Libya were parked on the edge of town, and if any of you have seen the images from National Geographic, you'll know how ridiculously overloaded these lorries can be.  We all wanted to take photos, but the townsfolk and the truck drivers were all very anti-photography, so any photos we wanted to take would have to be covert.  Hence this terrible, grainy cellphone shot from 150m away.  There's a lorry under all that stuff somewhere.

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Due to vehicle space limitations, I sent 2 vehicles off with the clients to take photos of the main lake (Lac Yoa), while I stayed back with Adolfo to run errands in town, meeting officials, buying drinks, being led around by the village drunk, sipping hot chai with the area chief, and generally getting a flavour for things. So I don't have photos of the big lake, unfortunately.  It was very picturesque, but I never had a clear shot from a good vantage point. 
Eventually, we got to our campsite at the next largest lake a few km away, Lac Katam. 

 

A quick background on these lakes.  In far north-central Chad, not far from the Libyan border, the Sahara desert gets around 2mm of rain per year. This is about as dry as it gets. And yet, here in this middle of this hyper-arid desert, 18 lakes dot the landscape, split into two main groups: Ounianga Kebir and Ounianga Serir. The lakes of Ounianga Serir are mostly freshwater, lined with thick vegetation, and host a wonderful array of biodiversity - especially the largest one, Lac Teli. The lakes of Ounianga Kebir, on the other hand are mostly saline, with Yoa and Katam being hyper-saline, a result of a very high rate of evaporation under the fiery sun.  The relentless wind means the lakes all run northeast to southwest - a result of the advancing sand and the wind cutting through the more solid sandstone beneath the surface. 
This whole area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for its natural beauty, biodiversity, and cultural importance. 
Sadly, the people who live around Ounianga Serir are rather unfriendly and are categorically unwelcoming to visitors, so we couldn't go there - as interesting as it would be from a biological perspective. So as we drove away from Lac Yoan, next to OuK town, we crossed a few dunes and ouadis to end up at the beautiful Lac Katam. Camp was already set up, and we got settled in.  As the sun went down, coyote-like cries rang out across the lake and the dunes. A pack of 4 African Golden Wolves (Canis lupaster) appeared, approached our campsite to investigate, and then disappeared over the next dune, calling as they went.  We would hear them calling out most of the night. 

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A beautiful campsite by all accounts, with a view of the lake on one side, a great sunset over the lake, and endless dunes in all directions. The ONLY downside were the lake flies and midges, which meant we all had to cover up from head to toe to avoid the annoying, itchy bites. The temperature was cool and comfortable, so this wasn't really an issue. 
The following morning, we woke up early to start walking around the lake before sunrise, so we could catch the sun rising over the lake from the other side. But before the sun rose, the moon had to set.

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And then the sun came up and it was glorious

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Obviously, I was birding. The bird diversity on a saline lake is never going to be as high as on a freshwater lake, but there were some nice waders around. Sadly, several days later the eBird app on my phone developed a bug and I could no longer access my checklists.  I'm so bleak I don't have a full record of all I saw. 

After a leisurely breakfast, and another little walk around the lake, we jumped in the vehicles for the trip back to Ouadi Doum for our next flight - to Fada and Ennedi Natural & Cultural Reserve.
Stay tuned....

 

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inyathi

Very envious of your visit to Ounianga Lakes, it looks like an amazing place.

 

I think Wadi Doom is a very appropriate name for the airbase that you landed at, in the early 80s northern Chad was controlled by a rebel group GUNT heavily backed by Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyans, in 1984 the French and the Libyans came to an agreement, that Chad should be divided along the 16th Parallel, the French who were backing the Chadian government withdrew their forces from Chad, but the Libyans did not, they kept their troops in the north and then built their main airbase at Ouadi Doum and brought in 7,000 troops, 300 tanks and 60 combat aircraft as reinforcements. On the 10th Feb 1986 Gaddafi foolishly decided to launch a major offensive crossing the line drawn by the French, intending to take the south and capture N'Djamena, partly because a significant number of GUNT rebels had defected to the government. The French sent their forces back to Chad including several squadrons of Jaguar attack aircraft, and on the 16th Feb, their Jaguar jets went into action and completely cratered the runway at Ouadi Doum putting it out of action, the Libyans responded with an ineffectual attempt to bomb the Airport in NDJ, the French then drew a new red line along the 15th Parallel and warned Gaddafi not to cross it. The French Airforce's attack on Ouadi Doum was the beginning of the end of Libya's occupation of northern Chad and their attempts to control the country. During the 1987 Toyota War, Chadian Forces led by Hassan Djamous (who NDJ's airport is named after) captured Ouadi Doum, after retaking Fada and leaving all those wrecked Libyan tanks and APC's in the desert, that we saw. Chad's history post independence is very complicated, too complicated for me to take in and remember, so that's just a simplified summary of events, relating to Ouadi Doum, from reading Wikipedia,     

 

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Tschad GUNT
Roxanna, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Edited by inyathi
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Atravelynn

Looking forward to this. Four African Golden Wolves are a fine start.  What were your dates?

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Zarek Cockar
9 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Looking forward to this. Four African Golden Wolves are a fine start.  What were your dates?

we arrived in NDJ on the 22nd of Feb and flew out on the 9th of March.

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Zarek Cockar
16 hours ago, Botswanadreams said:

Maybe as an addition to Zarek's report. This link https://www.botswanadreams.de/reisen-afrika/tschad-2019/tschad-2019-teil-7/ gives you a lot of images from Ounianga with the different Lakes from our trip 2019. We spent a bit more time in the area.

Thanks for this!  

 

16 hours ago, inyathi said:

Very envious of your visit to Ounianga Lakes, it looks like an amazing place.

 

I think Wadi Doom is a very appropriate name for the airbase that you landed at, in the early 80s northern Chad was controlled by a rebel group GUNT heavily backed by Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyans, in 1984 the...... 

 

Thanks @inyathifor this great little piece of history.  Adds another dimension to the place. 

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Zarek Cockar
Posted (edited)

From Ouadi Doum, we took off and flew for about an hour south east towards Fada.  The flat dune desert slowly transformed to rocky outcrops on our right with the endless Ennedi plateau, a huge, eroding sandstone massif on our left. Once on the ground in Fada, a new crew met us and whisked us off for a 2 hour drive south towards our campsite near the village of Archei.

First stop, the shelled out remains of some Libyan BMP-1 light tanks from the Battle of Fada in the 1987 “Toyota War”. I won’t go into too much detail here, but as a quick summary, Gaddafi invaded Chad. The then Chadian president, Hissene Habre and his general Hassan Djamous, gathered their troops, threw them onto a bunch of Toyota Land Cruisers with anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, and mounted machine guns, and sent them up to Kalait, just south of Ennedi.  From there they advanced to Fada, knocked out 92 T-55 Tanks, 33 BMP-1s, killed almost 800 enemy soldiers, and captured another 81.  Only 18 Chadian soldiers were killed and 3 Toyotas destroyed. 

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Cheesy but necessary

 

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The pillars of Ouimina 

Eventually we reached ‘Derde Camp’, named after the Toubou “chief” or political leader, where we could settle in and relax for the evening.

For the next 4 days, we explored the southern end of Ennedi, visiting beautiful rock formations, canyons, and caves with ancient rock art. Most of the rock art in the south is more recent, dating back 4-5,000 years, though there are a few older examples.

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Derde Camp

 

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Looking over the Guelta d'Archei

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Guelta d'Archei

 

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One of three West African Crocodiles (Crocodylus suchus) living in the cool spring waters of the Guelta d'Archei. Remnants of a wetter time in the Sahara, likely when a much more extensive Lake Chad was fed by rivers flowing in from the northeast. 

 

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L'elephant.  I doubt I need to explain why it's called that.

 

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A Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides) at dusk over l'Elephant

 

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Cows, camels (and their riders), dogs, women, children all meet at Manda Gueli Cave.

 

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Looking out from Manda Gueli Cave

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Typical scenery walking from one cave to another

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Guelta de Bachikele. Not as famous as the Guelta d'Archei, but no less beautiful. 

 

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Camels walking out of the tree-lined Bachikele. After days of driving around stark desert, seeing this much greenery and water was wonderful

 

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Arc de Djoulia, just outside Bachikele

 

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Le bouteille de vin (the wine bottle)

 

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Five-arch Rock or Le Table

 

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Le Champignons (the mushrooms)

 

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The entrance to Oyo Labyrinth

 

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Chigeou - a great spot for a sundowner. A large dune rises up between the pinnacles

 

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Hot sweet chai and cold beers for sundowner drinks at Chigeou

 

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Lunch under an arch at the pinnacles of Aywayke (Abeike)

 

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More Abeike Pinnacles

 

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Abeike

 

Most evenings we would arrive back at camp after dark, and one night a few of us went out for a night drive. Through the days and nights, we slowly built up a good list of birds and mammals, including Patas Monkey, Olive Baboon, Dorcas Gazelle, Rock Hyrax, Lesser Egyptian Jerboa, Pale Fox, Fennec Fox, Striped Ground Squirrel, Cape Hare, and Crested Porcupine. Always on the lookout for tracks, I was happy to find Striped Hyena tracks in a few places, but we never actually saw the animal. African Parks has recently reintroduced 10 Addax into this area, but I was unsure where they’d be, and we knew we’d be seeing them in Ouadi Rime Ouadi Achim, so it wasn’t a big priority here. I’ve always wanted to see Aoudad/Barbary Sheep here, but I’ve never been lucky.  I believe the Tibesti Mountains in northwestern Chad provide a better opportunity for this species.

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A Fennec Fox runs away from the road

 

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A Long Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus longipes)

 

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Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena) Track in Oyo Labyrinth

 

Finally, we began to drive north to Bichagara, which has some special rock art. Along the way, we visited a number of interesting sites, including the Awayeke (Abeike) columns and an ancient stone-age village.

Before we could get to Bichagara, we’d have to stop in Fada for food, fuel, and some repairs.  This took the crew a couple of hours, while the rest of us made use of the cell signal and intermittent internet access.  It seems while we’d been gallivanting around the desert, N’djamena had been thrown into disarray by an attempted coup (some say staged), and the consequential raid on the opposition’s house and the death of the opposition leader.  Soon, internet was shut off, and we were back to being disconnected from the rest of the world.  Which was fine. The desert was quiet and calm, and none of us worried too deeply about it (the same can’t be said of our loved ones back home).

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Sunset over our camp outside Fada. A peaceful evening despite what was going on in N'djamena at the time

 

We made it to Bichagara the next day, and began slowly making our way south again, past some more magnificent arches, caves, and paintings, including the “Skylight Arch” or Gaora Halagana.

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Yours truly in a T-55 tank just north of Fada

 

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Unique rock art at Bichagara

 

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We hadn't seen these concentric square shapes anywhere else. This was 40 km west of Fada on our way south. I intend to send many of my cave art photos to the Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) to ask about the significance of certain shapes and themes.

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Skylight Arch.

One final night on the southeastern reaches of the Ennedi, and we began to move further south to our next destination, Ouadi Rime Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve.

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The approach into Bachikele

Edited by Zarek Cockar
forgot some photos
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inyathi

@Zarek CockarThanks,

 

Great to see, photos of both familiar and unfamiliar places, nice to have seen camels right in the Guelta d'Archei, and that croc is really quite big, whatever they eat, they must be able to get enough of it, but I suppose they are quite old, I am glad you saw one, as it still seems quite amazing that there are crocs in such a place, it was slightly hard to imagine back in 2022. The Guelta de Bachikele looks like a really beautiful place and I hope those trees should ensure there are a few birds in there. Very envious of the Fennec, can't wait too see what you saw in OROA, and if that will make me envious too, not that I can complain about what I saw there.  

 

Meant to add to my last post, that whilst the US was not openly involved, they were giving behind the scenes help to Chad and France, and were watching events in northern Chad very keenly, they struck a deal with the Chadian government and few years after the French attack on Ouadi Doum, in 1988 they Launched Operation Mount Hope III, the US military flew two huge transport planes to Chad, containing a couple of Chinook helicopters and special Forces soldiers, the stripped down choppers then flew the troops up to Ouadi Doum, to pick up one of Libya's Russian Mil Mi-25 Hind helicopter gunships, that was remarkably still intact, the Libyan Airforce had on Soviet instructions, tried but failed to destroy it, and the Americans, were desperate to get their hands on it, as they had never examined one up close, they took the rotors off it and slung it under one of the Chinooks, whilst US and French troops stood guard, although Chad had recaptured the base in 87, there were still Libyan forces nearby, but they didn't show up, they then flew back to NDJ, at one point through a sandstorm, with the Hind slung underneath a Chinook, put it in one of their big transports and took it back to the US. After being thoroughly examined and then used for training, it is apparently now in the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama. The model used by the USSR was called the Mi-24, when exported it was called Mi-25, the Soviets used the Mi-24 Hind to devastating effect in their war in Afghanistan, and had the Cold War turned hot, then US and NATO troops would have faced being attacked by them, but of course, the Cold War ended only a few years later, and getting hold of Hinds then became really quite easy. This ugly beast has featured in quite a few Hollywood movies, most recently I would think in Top Gun Maverick.   

Edited by inyathi
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Atravelynn

The rock art is truly stunning and your desert photo art with the arches, pinnacles, pools, and framed camels is stunning as well.  The coup, staged or not, had to be disconcerting news.  Glad you were all fine.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Atravelynn
18 hours ago, Zarek Cockar said:

we arrived in NDJ on the 22nd of Feb and flew out on the 9th of March.

 

 

Thank you. Any comments on these dates which is near the start of peak season I believe vs. later in the season?

Edited by Atravelynn
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Zarek Cockar
9 hours ago, inyathi said:

@Zarek CockarThanks,

 

Great to see, photos of both familiar and unfamiliar places, nice to have seen camels right in the Guelta d'Archei, and that croc is really quite big, whatever they eat, they must be able to get enough of it, but I suppose they are quite old, I am glad you saw one, as it still seems quite amazing that there are crocs in such a place, it was slightly hard to imagine back in 2022. The Guelta de Bachikele looks like a really beautiful place and I hope those trees should ensure there are a few birds in there. Very envious of the Fennec, can't wait too see what you saw in OROA, and if that will make me envious too, not that I can complain about what I saw there.  

@inyathi yes we visited a couple of places on this trip that you and I didn't go to two years ago, but I think we also missed one or two that I remembered from 2022. Bachikele was wonderful.  Not a huge variety of birds there, but I did find Blackstart, which got me excited. 

I don't want to give away too many spoilers, but OROA was tough.

 

6 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

 

 

Thank you. Any comments on these dates which is near the start of peak season I believe vs. later in the season?

These dates provide a happy medium for the best time to visit Ennedi and Ouadi Rime Ouadi Achim as well as almost the best time to visit Zakouma. You can go later, but the heat in Ennedi and OROA would make things very uncomfortable with no respite. As it was, this year was already considerably hotter than similar dates in 2022, when I'd be wearing a thin fleece in the mornings in Ennedi. This year, by the time we were in OROA, temperatures were hovering around 42 degrees and we had no shade, other than the big white teepee canopy you see in the photo of the camp, and limited options for cooling down.  By the time we got to Zakouma, it was 44-45 degrees in the afternoon, but it's a little more bearable there with shade, overhead fans in the room, and showers.
If we were just doing Zakouma alone, mid March to early April would probably be the best time.  I know there's a group from@Pictus Safaris there right now, so I'm interested to hear how their game viewing compares to ours.

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Atravelynn

44-45 in the afternoon is hot.  Thanks for those specifics and general comments on when to go.

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Zarek Cockar
6 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

44-45 in the afternoon is hot.  Thanks for those specifics and general comments on when to go.

It is, but it's dry heat, so it's much more bearable than if it was humid. I'm now back home on the Kenya coast where it's a mild 36 degrees in the early afternoon, but the humidity makes it feel hotter than I was in Zakouma. 

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Pictus Safaris
On 3/28/2024 at 8:45 AM, Zarek Cockar said:

I know there's a group from@Pictus Safaris there right now, so I'm interested to hear how their game viewing compares to ours.

 

Hey @Zarek Cockar- just in-flight back from Zakouma now, we had it even hotter than you! At least 46 degrees every day, and I'm sure the all-time record of 47.6 will have been broken somewhere in the country yesterday. Game-viewing wise, it was superb. I won't write up a full report, but highlights were 28 serval (incl. 5 kittens), 10 honey badger, 2 leopard sightings, 2 cheetah, 5 wild cat, pale fox, huge quelea murmurations at Sourone, countless lion sightings (including plenty of little ones, as well as the impressive sight of a pride nearly getting squashed by buffalo) and great views of the 'main herd' of 200+ elephant. Misses were aardvark, caracal and striped hyena, but I don't think we were alone in that regard this season. A shame that we couldn't get all six Zakouma cat species for a second year running, but we can't complain.

 

A very political week, though, with some rather unsavoury clashes between Nomade and some of the crews out of Tinga.

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gatoratlarge

Just saw this @Zarek Cockarand can't wait for the rest of the report!  I'll never tire of the contrasts between the various parts of Chad---the desert leaves so much more to explore!

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From Bichagara, we spent 2 further nights on the road with long days of driving in between. Our first night was spent just north of the town of Kalait, on the edge of a boulder field – a picturesque end to a long, hot day. We sent one vehicle on to the nearest settlement to buy a goat which was then slaughtered for us all (except the one vegetarian in the group, obviously) to enjoy over the next couple of days. In the morning we woke to a Little/Saharan Owl (Athene noctua saharae) watching over us from the boulders nearby. Unfortunately when as I was walking back to my tent to grab my camera, one of the drivers walked straight towards it to find a private spot for his morning ablutions. The owl flew far off and I was unable to follow.

 

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Camp before Kalait

 

We drove into Kalait for a resupply of fuel, food, and drinks. I’m sorry I didn’t get any photos of Kalait. It’s an unremarkable looking town full of invasive Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora), plastic trash, and reckless drivers. Three main types of shops seem to dominate Kalait’s “main street”: cell phones and cheap quality accessories, brightly coloured drinks in plastic bottles stacked from floor to ceiling, and clothing. Temperatures hovered around 42 degrees. People stared. Finding anything other than water that isn’t chock full of sugar and artificial colours was next to impossible. Eventually, the crew had everything they needed, and we continued south, stopping a few kilometres away for a lunch break under a tree.

From here, we pressed on to Arada where another inexplicably long stop occurred. And finally, before it got dark, we found a campsite just west of Arada – our last stop before Ouadi Rime Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve. 

We were now surrounded by grass and scrubby bush rather than rock-scapes and sand dunes. The sound of birdsong woke me up and I was most interested to hear a Brown-crowned Tchagra calling from a nearby Acacia – a species that isn’t “supposed” to be there according to the books, apps, and conventional knowledge.  But I followed it and caught a glimpse, a clear brown crown accompanying the characteristic cartoonish swirling descending notes I’m so familiar with from my home in Kenya.  As we began to drive across the grassy plains, a Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle made an appearance, along with a huge Arabian Bustard, before our first antelopes of the day – Dorcas Gazelle.  As we got in further, we came across our first group of Addax (Addax nasomaculatus) taking shelter under the shade of two large trees.

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Dorcas Gazelle (Gazella dorcas)

 

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Addax (Addax nasomaculatus)

 

Addax is one of the main attractions in Ouadi Rime Ouadi Achim (OROA). With the introduction of automatic and semi-automatic weapons and motorised transport allowing access into the furthest reaches of the Sahara and Sahel, Addax, Scimitar-horned Oryx, and Dama Gazelle were hunted to near extinction (or extinction, in the case of the oryx). The Addax were hunted for their meat, their skins, a little for the trophies of their horns, and also for the vast amounts of water stored in their bellies. They’re so efficient at storing, and not losing, any moisture in vegetation they consume, that thirsty nomads would often shoot them just to access that water! This hunting was unregulated across their range, from Mauritania to the Nile, and by 2016, global wild Addax numbers hovered somewhere between 30-90 individuals, with fewer than 10 of them in Chad.

 

The Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi and Sahara Conservation Fund teamed up to slowly start reintroducing Addax into OROA, and by 2020, they were celebrating the first known wild birth in decades. I believe there are now over 100 individuals within OROA, though I don’t have exact numbers, 10 of which were recently transferred up to Ennedi, in partnership with African Parks.

 

In the afternoon, we took a drive out to look for some of our other targets, finding more Addax, and a few Scimitar-horned Oryx

The story of the Scimitar-horned Oryx is similar to, if not more extreme than, that of the Addax. The last known photo of a ShO in the wild was taken in 1982 (I think), and the species was declared ‘Extinct in the wild’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2000. Once again, the hard work of Environment Abu Dhabi and Sahara Conservation turned this around. Individuals held in captivity in various centres around the world were pooled together to increase genetic diversity, and a series of introductions into OROA, plus subsequent wild births, has now resulted in a population of over 600 individuals that have begun spreading further across the OROA landscape. Last year, a fresh IUCN Red List assessment was carried out, downlisting the Oryx from ‘Extinct in the wild’ to ‘Endangered’ – skipping ‘Critically Endangered’ altogether!  This is a huge conservation success that deserves as much international attention and funding to continue as possible.

Sahara Conservation and Environment Abu Dhabi have worked closely with the Chadian government and the local communities to ensure this reintroduction is a success.  The local communities have been consulted at every step and have seen the reintroduction of both species as a positive step, as long as no large predators are brought in along with them!

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Scimitar-horned Oryx (Oryx dammah)

 

That first afternoon also found a Pharaoh Eagle-Owl, a few Ruppell’s Vultures, and Lappet-faced Vultures. Sahara Conservation has been working with the IUCN Vulture Specialist Group to equip individuals of both vulture species with GPS tags to better understand their movements, diets in the area, nesting, and population dynamics. Andre Botha of the IUCN Vulture SSG was there leading a team to get tags on Ruppell’s Vultures for the first time.  In most other parts of Africa, Ruppell’s Vultures are strictly cliff-nesters, including a mere 100km to the south of OROA, but within this area, they’ve taken to tree-nesting. OROA is a great place to study vultures because of the plentiful availability of food – both wild and domestic ungulate carcasses – and the almost complete lack of direct human-wildlife conflict. The two largest predators in the area are African Golden Wolf and Striped Hyena, both of which seem to avoid confrontation with the local nomads and their livestock. This means poisoned carcasses are rare, unlike much of the rest of this species range states, and they can thrive here.

After dinner, a few of us took a night drive, hoping to see some nocturnal wildlife. On my previous trip we’d been quite lucky with African Wolf and African Wild Cat, and the researchers often see a host of other species on night patrols. Alas, this was not to be, and after 2 hours, we’d seen a single Lesser Egyptian Jerboa and a Greyish Eagle-Owl.

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Pharaoh Eagle-Owl (Bubo ascalaphus)

 

The following morning, Tim Wacher, one of the lead conservation biologists with the Zoological Society of London (a partner of Sahara Conservation), joined us on our drive and provided some wonderful insights into what goes into conserving an area like OROA. Tim’s and avid birdwatcher, so I was happy to have him around to help with some challenging LBJs :D  He and I had been in touch for a couple of years already as I submit all my Chad birding records to the West African Bird Database (WABDab), which he helps to run and curate. Tim was most helpful and offered to give us all a short presentation on their operations there, which we very happily took him up on that evening.

One of the highlights of the morning drive was a clear sighting of two fully wild Dama Gazelles (Nanger dama). These were part of the original population and not recent imports as part of the ongoing reintroduction programme.  They’re surely some of the largest gazelles in Africa, with a shoulder height of up to 120 cm! They’re also surely some of the shyest gazelles in Africa, heading for the horizon long before we had a chance to stop the vehicle and get a decent photo.  But with less than 100 individuals still alive in the wild, spread across 4 disparate populations, it was an absolute thrill to see 2% of the global population!  For their own sake, I hope they continue to be terrified of humans. Once again Environment Abu Dhabi and Sahara Conservation are taking steps to reintroduce enough individuals into the area to create a viable breeding population, working with the local communities to create awareness and stop any poaching that might occur. This will take years of hard work and collaboration with many stakeholders before the population really bounces back, but as with the other two species, there’s great hope.

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A very distant Dama Gazelle obscured by the mid-morning heat haze

 

Another highlight of the morning was a Moila Snake (Malpolon moilensis). Sometimes referred to as a False Cobra because of it's convincing spread-hood threat display. I first shouted out "Cobra" when I saw it moving away from the track with its head raised and hood spread.  It wasn't until we'd stopped the car and gotten out to get a closer look that I realized it was something else entirely. Tim confirmed the ID an I was able to look it up again later. 

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Moila Snake (Malpolon moilensis)

 

In the afternoon, a few of us took another ride out, finding further groups of Addax, Oryx, and even one more Dama Gazelle. We returned to base to pass by the enclosures where 10 more Dama Gazelles were being prepared for release. They were shy and getting photos through the fence was a challenge. In a nearby enclosure were some North African Ostrich (Struthio camelus camelus) also awaiting release.  The North African Ostrich has experienced steep declines over the last 4 decades as a result of unregulated hunting/poaching for their feathers and meat, egg collection, and habitat loss. As it’s a subspecies of the Common Ostrich, which is listed on the IUCN Red List as ‘Least Concern’, it’s been a challenge getting conservation attention and funding for this critically endangered form.  Once again, Sahara Conservation has teamed up with several partners to work on a reintroduction programme in OROA and in Niger. They’re also potentially looking at having Common Ostrich taxonomy reviewed, to separate the North African Ostrich out as a distinct species, so that it can be given its own conservation status assessment with the IUCN Red List in order to attract more attention and funding.

We had one final night drive that revealed a single Pale Fox and a couple of African Golden Wolves raiding a bin behind the HQ. And the next morning, we hopped on our next flight to our final safari destination: Zakouma National Park.

 

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Parting shot of Oryx seeking shelter from the heat

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