So on completing one of my most memorable journeys ever, having to now depart Chad’s Zakouma National Park, proved to be such an enormous wrench and with a heavy heart I desperately tried to remember some of my unforgettable experiences.
The sound of the largest concentration of black crowned cranes that graced the morning sky only days before came flooding back, together with thousands of doves, or perhaps the evening departure with the beautiful pinky-blue hue of the sunset with skeins of geese and pelicans flying off to their nesting grounds, the urgent communication linking the whereabouts of different flocks, the sound piercing the evening air or simply watching them, the only sound the wingbeat as they were silhouetted across the sky.
Then there was the nightly call of the different lion prides all busy establishing territories or regrouping for the night, the last grunt fading on the air. A huge smile suddenly appeared on my face as I recalled the daily encounter with different lion prides, some with the youngest cubs imaginable, being stowed beneath a Kigelia Africana or sausage tree, as they tried to hide from us in the early evening.
And then watching the special Kordofan giraffe journey gracefully across the plains, there were simply so many wonderful highlights spinning around in my head.
One night I could hear two lionesses calling a lone lioness with cubs, and then to my amazement, pausing to rest right in front of my tent, whilst I marvelled at my luck at being able to witness their presence, feeling them close to me, yet completely safe but with perfect visibility with just the gauze dividing us. It is these incredible memories that remain with us forever…
One of our days included having a picnic lunch on a rock on the dried up Salamat river with just one pool with a few crocodiles in it. As we unwrapped our lunch of hummous wraps, we sat down on the blanket to hear the sound of a lion just across the sand river bed beneath the next tree. These lions had just made a kill and were starting to consume their quarry, with the odd skirmish as one could only imagine the scene unfolding, audible but not visible!
During our fly camp expedition, at one stage we alighted from our vehicle in search of the precious elephant that we could hear in the forest, just following the sound of dry twigs breaking as our clues. Following them on foot then finding the first couple and being able to spend a few minutes just being in their presence was a huge thrill and honour.
Then continuing through the forest, until we found a secret glade. We crouched at this small lake, a miniature Eden and watched a small herd of young elephant cavorting in the river, wallowing and enjoying an afternoon bath in the shade. Then returning back to the dry riverbed which had some small pools of water still on the surface and enjoying the privilege of watching a large herd of elephant digging the water, completely relaxed. And this is the key.
This was Zakouma. This IS Zakouma – a wildlife paradise like no other and one of the greatest success stories in conservation…. where 4000 elephant used to roam before being virtually exterminated by poachers.
And then, enter African Parks in 2010, greatest custodians of our most threatened wildlife habitats, together with the Chadian government and the EU, eight years later, we have a virtually poacher free park and the highest birth rate of elephant calves over the last two years.
The reduction of poaching is no coincidence – it is directly linked to the crack-shot anti-poaching team, rigorously trained by expert military minds from France, always one step ahead of the poachers. It is my fervent hope that these people will now be dissuaded not only from the sharp resistance of this finely honed team, but also the fact that ivory has now dropped 50 percent of its value since China has said it will from next year ban the sale of ivory.
And then there is the cultural angle – the markets, where one can still see an occasional camel train, with a man and his entire family with their nomadic tent, setting off for the weekly market, to barter, bargain and trade. This is no tourist show – but rather something that is a day’s activity of meeting with the local Nomad tribes, sharing stories and food and tea.
At this point I haven’t even mentioned the camp yet – Camp Nomade – romantic in name and even more so by nature. The simplest, lightest tents made of gauze, with wafts of yellow fabric for privacy and Chadian rugs on the floor WITH a separate en suite bathroom made from local thatch, this is the perfect camp in every respect.
It means that at all times you can have an unimpeded view across the front of your tent over the pans that are just teeming with wildlife. You can sit on your verandah, drinking in the views of the hartebeest, waterbuck, giraffe and gazelle, through the shrouds of red billed quelea and black crowned cranes, whose numbers are largest here than anywhere else in Africa.
The main tent is beautifully furnished with its Bohemian, Bedouin style canvas roof, Libyan rugs, large floor cushions and leather ottomans where everyone congregates either for breakfast and lunch or to simply sit and marvel at the story unfolding before you such as the yellow billed kite which swooped down on the cattle egret, grasping it in its talons, only to drop it mid-air and the egret took to flight immediately, unscathed.
The food here is really fresh and very good, too. The staff are simply wonderful – friendly, eager and great company. A smattering of French would make the world of difference communicating with these lovely people who add another dimension to your experience.
The camp is taken on an exclusive use basis which is just perfect – its somewhere you would want to share with friends or people whom you know would appreciate such a magnificent and precious jewel. It’s not easy to access which is its appeal – it’s not for everyone – and nor should it be. Suffice to say, I want to share it with just a few – our very own secret wildlife treasure”