Zakouma National Park, Chad

July 12, 2017 1:12 pm

Chad, March 2017

“Chad? For a safari?” Safari is not the first thing most people think of when they think of Chad, even if they can find it on a map!  Chad doesn’t seem like a country offering a safari and nor does it seem to be in the vicinity of your typical safari destinations of South Africa, Botswana, Kenya etc. Instead, Chad is located in a region of Africa which probably can be best described as having reputation issues and there is always the hesitation of visiting any country listed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, full of travel advisory warnings.

The initial reaction is right, Chad doesn’t offer your typical safari.  It does however offer something much, much better. It offers the opportunity for those with a sense of adventure to experience a safari without crowd or frankly any other tourists and to visit a place which is truly wild.

So where does your adventure begin?  After flying in to the capital, N’Djamena, on Ethiopian Airlines, it turns out Sunday is race day.  That is horse racing. Who would have guessed?

N’Djamena Racing

It is a colourful, dusty, and hot day, but the local crowd is passionate and it is an interesting and fun way to immerse yourself into a new country.

The next day saw us load up into a Cessna Caravan for the flight West to Zakouma National Park.

Watering wild elephants at the Zakouma National Park HQ.

Zakouma National Park is a unique ecosystem and a remarkable conservation success story.  Since 2010 the park has been managed by African Parks in agreement with the government of Chad, but in the years prior to AP’s intervention, the park was at the mercy of violent groups, with an estimated 95% of the elephant population slaughtered.  Read more about Zakouma’s story here.

The story of Zakouma’s elephants made the next experience all the more remarkable: watering wild elephants!  In a beautiful story of trust returning, the Zakouma HQ has become an unofficial walk through watering hole for a number of independent bull elephants.  To be standing next to these enormous animals, who will have experienced persecution and the loss of their family members to poaching, with nothing but a hose was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I could have spent all day and every day of the trip with these beautiful animals in an experience I will never forget.

However there was the rest of Zakouma to explore. One of the benefits of the model adopted by African Parks and the fact Zakouma is not on the radar is you essentially get the whole of the park to yourself.  This means your time in Zakouma is spent on game drives, day and night; walking; and fly camping.  Some lucky visitors can even take to the air in one of AP’s light aircraft on aerial patrol.

One of the most striking aspects of Zakouma is how truly wild it feels. There is an overall wild feeling in the park, of wildlife which hasn’t encountered humans on a day-to-day basis, as well as the sheer abundance and variety of wildlife life, both mammals and birds. It is a recognition of why Zakouma is such a unique ecosystem, worthy of the effort African Parks puts into its conservation and protection.

The heat is extreme, but it pushes with wildlife and birdlife in what are shrinking pans of water. Crowded with life, you don’t have to travel far from camp.

From a photographic perspective, Zakouma can be challenging.  The air is dusty and hot, the light is often mixed, and frequently the sky is filled with enormous flocks of Red-billed Quelea.

However a visit to Zakouma is not about capturing award winning photos, but rather experiencing a unique wildlife experience.

It was also special to visit the local nomadic communities, who welcomed us with fresh milk and sweet tea.

The accommodation is also unique, with the Camp Nomade re-set each year after the wet season.

I would also note the food was excellent too.  Chef Jamie Sparks produced a brilliant cookbook – Cooking for Conservation – which captures both the flavours of Chad and her experiences cooking in her bush kitchen at Camp Nomade. You can buy the book here with proceeds going to African Parks.

In terms of accessing Zakouma, you need to arrange your travel in advance with one of the AP approved guides.  Richard Anderson of Anderson Expeditions (www.andersonexpeditions.com) is one such guide and as one of the best in the business, I could recommend traveling to Zakouma with him.

The sign of a good trip is when you lose track of time, but also when time flies by. I look back at my time in Zakouma wishing I had more time. More time with Zakouma’s elephants.

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About

I am an Australian/Danish photographer living in London.  My passion for photography emerged from a lifetime of travel, a love of nature, and a desire to capture images of some of the incredible places and moments I have been fortunate to enjoy.

I have been incredible fortunate travel formed a big part of my childhood and, now living in the United Kingdom, it continues to be a big part of my life for both work and pleasure.  From a personal perspective, photography allows me to capture memories and to also share images from my experiences around the world.  In particular, I hope, in some small way, my images can contribute to a greater appreciation of the beauty of the natural world and the world around us.

I am also passionate about conservation and I believe in giving back to the environment.  I am committed to donating 100% of the profits from the images I sell to various wildlife and environment related causes.  I have also become a director for African Parks UK.  African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation founded in 2000 and an organisation striving to protect some of the most important conservation areas in Africa through long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. African Parks currently manage 18 national parks and protected areas in 11 countries covering over 14.1 million hectares.  Learn more about African Parks here: http://www.africanparks.org

Please follow my latest adventures and images via Instagram: @matttoddphotos.

Thank you for visiting my website and I hope you enjoy my images.

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