Never in my wildest dreams did I think that anywhere in North Africa could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great wildlife and safari destinations of East and Southern Africa. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for how truly great Zakouma National Park in western Chad is and how well it stacks up as a must-see safari destination for travellers with a passion for wildlife and true wildernesses.
I had the privilege a few years back of spending close to two weeks in Zakouma. Each and every person I travelled with was overwhelmed by the experience. Some in our party were seasoned safari guides who have spent many decades exploring the remotest corners of Africa – and for most Zakouma topped everything they had experienced.
The concentration of wildlife was astonishing, the birding was the best of my life (way out-performing the great destinations like the Okavango and others) and the Camp Nomade mobile tented camp experience is world-class. But it is the sheer volume of wildlife and the huge herds around every corner that is Zakouma’s real attraction. And for the birder, the constant birdsong will live with me forever alongside the tons of specials that will rapidly expand your African lifer list. We learnt that one of Africa’s rarest birds, the black-breasted barbet, was spotted in Zakouma just after our departure.
Credit must go to all the African Parks personnel – in particular Lorna, Rian and Zanne Labuschagne who went in early and turned back the clock on the rampant destruction that had occurred here to put Zakouma firmly back on its feet. Credit too goes to the staff who manage the most superb mobile camp and provided us with hospitality and food that equalled nearly every safari lodge in Africa.
African Parks can hold their heads high for turning Zakouma around and creating the safe wildlife haven it is today that is not only good for the wildlife of the area, but also for its neighbouring communities. One can best see this in the elephant population. Zakouma was possibly best known for its one elephant herd of 400 strong that stayed together and moved as one, shoulder-to-shoulder. It was safety in numbers for these much-traumatised animals. Nearly two decades of relentless poaching pressure took its toll on this herd, so much so that there were no teenage elephants because of the stresses endured. African Parks changed all that by eradicating poaching and providing a safe sanctuary. The elephants have responded to the safe haven and youngsters are being born again. Best of all, the elephants have started to behave as elephants normally do.
African Park’s Camp Nomade can potentially only host around 14 groups per year solely between late December and early April when the park dries up and the wildlife concentrates around their rivers and floodplains (along the same lines as Mana Pools, but on steroids). Each private group (of between 6 and 10 people) books out their camp for a full week for their exclusive use under the guidance of a select few experienced private guides. Start pencilling in dates for next year and get your own group together. Perhaps raid your pension fund – you will not be disappointed. All the money earned from tourism goes to help cover costs incurred to manage the park.
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