Sunday, June 1, 2014

Zakouma National Park

A couple months ago I drove 11 hours to Zakouma National Park in southern Chad and spent a couple days driving around the park and looking for elephants.  The scenery was great traveling to the park but it is so remote that there are no local cell towers and your phones won't work.  Ten years ago there were around 4000 elephants in the park but now there are less than 400 due to poaching.
Tinga Lodge for dining or relaxing

Tinga Huts

We stayed at the Tinga lodge in cloverleaf huts and had great lunches and dinners and decent breakfasts.  The rooms had private baths and screened windows, mosquito nets, and ceiling fans.  Even though I was there during the hot season in March it wasn't uncomfortable to sleep, even when the generator failed for a couple hours one night.

 There seemed to be more water buffalos than anything else in else.  During an evening game drive we ran across a huge herd of hundreds of water buffalos on a grassy plain.  Considered one of the more dangerous animals in the park, the water buffalos seemed ready to charge every time we stopped to take a picture.
We spent hours driving around the park looking for elephants checking out spots where they are usually found along the river but all we found there were crocodiles enjoying the sun.

We found a variety of other animals including groups of giraffes, baboons, and vultures.  The vultures reminded me of the ones from the old animated Jungle Book movie, even though that movie was set in Asia.

Even though we didn't find any elephants after days scouring the park we did run into a couple groups of lions.  Monkeys were normally everywhere in the park and accompanied by the loud sounds from other animals but where we found these lions enjoying the sun it was quiet and calm.  We got within 10 meters of these lions and the guide explained that the lions weren't interested in us because they were full from eating all the former monkey residents of the area.

As we left the park early on our last day at dawn we ran into another group of lions looking for breakfast near Tinga lodge.  Some monkeys were walking along with the lions about 100meters away making lots of noise to let all the other monkeys know that lions were coming.

If you are in Chad and you notice any poaching or people hassling elephants please call the numbers on this sign to alert the authorities.  The elephants aren't confined to the park and there are no real fences around the park to keep the animals in or poachers out.  Elephants can range all over southern Chad and there are several groups outside of the relatively safe borders of the park.
Le Braconage= Poaching
In April and May 2014 the US did provide training to 100 rangers from the Chadian Anti-Poaching Brigade at Zakouma National Park.  The US trained rangers will support the Zakouma park rangers and Nomadic Guard when they run into heavily armed poachers.  In 2012 heavily armed Sudanese poachers used truck-mounted heavy machine guns and RPGs to slaughter elephants in Zakouma.  Later they attacked and killed several park rangers.  Poachers remain a serious threat to elephants and other animals in the park and the high value of ivory is motivating criminal and insurgent groups to kill animals for the money to support their other activities.  At the rate elephants are being massacred, if more isn't done none will be left in Chad.