DESPITE MANY YEARS OF CONFLICT, ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK IS WIDELY CONSIDERED TO BE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PROTECTED AREAS NOT ONLY IN CHAD, BUT IN ALL OF AFRICA.
The park has become a safe haven for Central and West African wildlife including the Kordofan giraffe and elephant, the latter of which had experienced a 95% loss from rampant poaching. Today, due to extraordinarily effective law enforcement and community engagement, elephant numbers have stabilized and new calves are being born every year. Security has been restored and Zakouma is now a coveted tourism destination, serving as one of the most inspirational conservation success stories of our time.
In the 1950s, Colonel Michel Anna, Chad’s hunting inspector at the time, proposed the classification of Zakouma as a faunal reserve in order to ensure the protection of the highly poached giraffe population and in response to declines in other species due to excessive hunting.
The reserve was established at that time and anti-poaching patrols commenced using nomad guards. Within a few years of this intervention, the density of game reached numbers never before seen in Chad, and as a consequence, the number of poachers on the reserve’s periphery followed a similar trend. To offer better protection, Zakouma was declared a national park in 1963 by Presidential Decree, giving it the highest form of protection available under the laws of Chad.
However, the elephants of Zakouma experienced an extraordinary onslaught of poaching between 2003 to 2010, resulting in the catastrophic loss of over 4,000 elephants. African Parks took over management of the park in 2010, and due to effective law enforcement measures and community networks, poaching has been practically eliminated with only a few individuals being lost in the past six years. Today, the herd has stabilized, and calves are being reported on every year.
2013 marked the 50th anniversary of this continentally important national park.
Zakouma National Park is managed in partnership between African Parks and the Chadian government.
The Chadian government and the European Union approached African Parks in 2010 to take on the management responsibility of Zakouma in order to put an end to the ongoing scourge of elephant poaching. The mandate agreement was signed in June 2010 and African Parks commenced management of the park and periphery in the October of the same year.
Within two years of taking over management, African parks entirely halted elephant poaching within the extended elephant range.
Today the elephant population of Zakouma is on the increase, with new-born calves being observed from mid-2013 onwards.
Other species in the park are also increasing in number, including giraffe, roan antelope and Lelwel’s hartebeest.
The park’s buffalo population, reduced to about 220 animals in 1986, numbers over 10,000 today.
African Parks is working closely with the Chadian Government in its efforts to protect elephant herds in the rest of the country, through the development of a National Elephant Conservation and Management Strategy.
Zakouma is one of the biggest employers in the regions of Salamat and Guera and provides additional opportunities for local income generation through the local procurement of park and tourist camp supplies.
AN AREA OF STARK CONTRASTS WITH TWO VERY DISTINCT SEASONS, ZAKOUMA IS A REFUGE FOR ELEPHANT AND NUMEROUS OTHER SPECIES, MANY OF WHICH ARE THREATENED ELSEWHERE WITHIN THIS ECO-ZONE.
Zakouma is characterised by two seasons: wet and dry. The wet season runs between June and November, wherein the park receives an average of 850 millimeters of rain. This results in much of the terrain being completely inundated with water and some species migrating outside of its boundaries.
The dry season then lures wildlife back to the eastern half of the park, where pans and fertile floodplains provide plentiful drinking water and grazing. Large herds of animals and thousands of birds congregate at these pools from February to June, making for spectacular game viewing.
The flora of Zakouma forms part of the Sudano-Sahelian vegetation zone and is mainly characterised by Combretum or Acacia savannah and grasslands, which are important for the grazers as the rest of the habitats dry out. Sections of gallery forests and floodplain depressions or pans are also common in the east. Inselbergs (granite domes) are a characteristic feature of the south-western area. Prominent tree species in the Combretum savannah include the paperbark thorn, the white thorn and the axlewood tree. The Acacia savannah is characterised by species such as the red acacia (also known as the shittah tree), the scented thorn, the desert date, the axlewood tree, the jujube and Combretum glutinosum.
Zakouma serves as sanctuary for West and Central African biodiversity, due to its year-round availability of water. Some 66 mammal species are found in the park, of which 16 are large mammals. Notable species include the Kordofan giraffe, with 50 percent of the African population residing within the park.
Larger species include lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyaena, striped hyaena and wild dog, while smaller species include civet, serval, caracal, jackal, honey badger, African wildcat and the pale fox.
Some of the most notable species include elephant, Kordofan giraffe, Central African Savannah buffalo, Western greater kudu, red-fronted gazelle, Lelwel’s hartebeest, tiang, roan antelope, Defassa waterbuck, Buffon’s kob, warthog, red-flanked and Grimm’s duiker, oribi and Bohor reedbuck.
Three species of primate are found in the park, namely the olive baboon, patas monkey and tantalus monkey.
A total of 388 bird species reside within the park boundaries.
Zakouma’s floodplains, rivers, marshes and pans are a valuable stop-over and breeding ground for birds, and the south-eastern wetlands form part of the RAMSAR site “Inundation Plains of Bahr Auok and Salamat” – one of the largest in the world.
Some 40 raptor species are found in the park, along with abundant populations of northern carmine bee-eaters and red-billed queleas. Zakouma is also home to the Abyssinian ground hornbill.
The park is an important refuge for numerous animals, many of which are threatened elsewhere within this eco-zone, which stretches as a band across the breadth of Africa to the south of the Sahara Desert.
Prior to 2011, Zakouma’s iconic free-ranging elephant population was almost decimated by rampant poaching, plummeting from over 4,350 individuals in 2002, to just 545. However, within two years of African Parks taking over management of the park, elephant poaching was completely halted in the ecosystem and a programme to protect elephant across a 15 000 km² zone, which includes protection during the wet season, has been implemented.
Today the elephant population of Zakouma is increasing with many new-born calves being observed for the first time in several years. In terms of avian species, Zakouma is believed to be home to the largest population of red-necked or North African ostrich, now extinct in most of its former range.
The black-crowned crane is found in flocks of thousands and it is believed that the ecosystem is key to the survival of this species due to habitat loss in many areas. The black-breasted barbet is also found in Zakouma, a species of very limited range in Chad, CAR and Sudan, making the park the only place where it can be viewed by tourists.
Overall, the ecosystem is healthy, however two large mammal species are now extinct in the area, namely the western black rhino and Lord Derby’s eland. The black rhino, once abundant, went extinct in Zakouma in 1972, while the Lord Derby’s eland disappeared in the mid-1980s. It is the intention of park management to try and reintroduce these two species to restore the ecological integrity of the park.
The hippopotamus has also not been seen in Zakouma for many years, but it is possible that they will return one day from Lac Iro.
Since African Park’s involvement, most species of larger mammals, including buffalo, giraffe, roan antelope and Lelwel’s hartebeest have increased in number. The buffalo population, reduced to only about 220 animals in 1986, has increased to over 10,000 today.
Zakouma has tagged elephants in each of the park’s herds, fitting them with satellite GPS collars in order to gather more information on their movements during both the wet and the dry season. Each satellite collar transmits location data every four to eight hours, enabling management to follow the elephant movements closely. This initiative was so successful, that African Parks, together with the Government of Chad, launched a nationwide programme to tag between one and three individuals in each of the country’s primary elephant populations, and feed this vital data through to a National Centre for Elephant Protection in N’Djaména, which is currently managed by African Parks under the auspices of the Chadian Ministry of Agriculture and Environment. Here it is consolidated and analysed, and will be used to devise the anti-poaching strategy for the region. African Parks has also been instrumental in the preparation of the National Elephant Conservation and Management Strategy for Chad.
|Spotted hyaena||Crocuta crocuta|
|Honey badger||Mellivora capensis|
|African wildcat||Felis silvestris|
|Pale fox||Vulpes pallida|
|Wild dog||Lycaon pictus|
|Striped hyaena||Hyaena hyaena|
|Olive baboon||Papio anubis|
|Patas monkey||Erythrocebus patas|
|Tantalus monkey||Chlorocebus tantalus|
|Korofan giraffe||Camerlopardalis antiquorum|
|Red-fronted gazelle||Gazella rufitrons|
|Lelwel’s hartebeest||Alcelaphus buselaphus lelwel|
|Tiang||Damaliscus lunatus tiang|
|Bohor reedbuck||Redunca redunca|
|Central African Savannah buffalo||Syncerus caffer aequinoctialis|
|Western greater kudu||Tragelaphus strepsicero|
|Roan antelope||Hippotragus equinus|
|Defassa waterbuck||Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa|
|Buffon’s kob||Kobus kob kob|
THE LOCAL POPULATION SURROUNDING ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK IS VERY LOW DENSITY, BUT HEAVILY DEPENDENT ON NATURAL RESOURCES IN THE PARK’S PERIPHERY ZONE.
Working closely with the communities living in the villages surrounding Zakouma, along with the thousands of nomads that move into the region each year, is therefore of paramount importance, and a number of development programmes have been implemented to improve their quality of life.
The education in Chad is challenging due to the nation’s dispersed population. This is further exacerbated by parents’ reluctance to send children to school, largely because they cannot afford the enrolment fees, but also because they need their children to assist with the never-ending work involved in supporting their subsistence-based lifestyle.
Zakouma has focused on improving the quality of education by providing a better school environment, training teachers, and providing better teaching materials. A number of new schools, called Elephant Schools, have been built, in areas within the elephant migration zone, and an environmental education programme has been launched. This includes providing local communities with the opportunity to experience the park first-hand, with many of the children seeing wildlife for the first time.
Zakouma is one of the biggest employers in the regions of Salamat and Guera and provides many opportunities for local income generation, particularly through the purchase of supplies for park management and the tourist camps, along with casual work in the park.
The positive relationship between the park and local communities is largely due to the increased security provided by the extensive law enforcement patrols in their areas. The park is located nearby the Sudan border and communities based in these areas suffer from the presence of criminal groups who steal from them, and in some cases even kill community members.
By extending the park’s communication network to include radios in strategic villages, the flow of information has been improved, so that communities can tip off park authorities if they encounter any suspicious activity or potential threats, both to people and wildlife. This enables management to react quickly before there is any loss of life.
It is the firm belief of park management that the decline in elephant poaching is not only due to the improved anti-poaching activities, now year-round, but is also due to the largely positive relationship the park now has with its neighbours – they act as the eyes and ears around the entire park and provide information on suspicious people or illegal activities in the area.
Ivory Stockpiles Destroyed
Sending a clear message of zero tolerance for the slaughter of elephant for ivory, the President of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, led his cabinet to Zakouma National Park in February 2014, for the burning of 1.1 tons of ivory that had been stockpiled in the country since the previous burning in 2007. This signified Chad’s firm commitment to combatting elephant poaching and dedication to fulfilling the requisites set out in the Elephant Protection Initiative signed in London earlier that month by the President, which included the destruction of ivory stockpiles and the preparation of a National Elephant Action Plan.
THE DECREASE OF ELEPHANT POACHING IN ZAKOUMA IS A GREAT SUCCESS STORY – PARTICULARLY AS IT IS AN EXAMPLE OF HOW MANAGEMENT CAN WORK WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES TO ENSURE THAT BOTH PEOPLE AND WILDLIFE BENEFIT FROM INCREASED SECURITY.
Additional rangers were employed from local communities around the park and underwent extensive training in a number of key skills, including shooting and arrest tactics to augment the ranger corps in place, and to form the specialist Rapid Response Unit, known as Mamba. In-house training is given to this team on a regular basis.
In the mid-2000s, a wave of elephant poaching hit Chad, and Zakouma National Park in particular. Between 2006 and 2008, a staggering 2,000 elephants were killed in the park and its surrounding areas by armed groups coming in from as far afield as the Darfur region of Sudan. Poachers mounted on horseback would fire indiscriminately into densely packed elephant herds, resulting in devastating massacres of up to 60 animals at any given incident.
Tragically, on 3 September 2012, an entire patrol team was assassinated at Heban outpost (90 km north of Zakouma), which saw six rangers killed. A revised anti-poaching plan was prepared in response to this new, more dangerous threat to the park rangers, which resulted in amongst others initiatives, the creation of the Mamba team.
ELEPHANTS HAVE RECOMMENCED BREEDING FOLLOWING A LULL OF SEVERAL YEARS WITH MANY CALVES NOW BEING SIGHTED – A CLEAR INDICATION THAT THE HERDS ARE RECOVERING FROM THE STRESSES THEY EXPERIENCED IN THE PAST.
As the African savannah elephant is the flagship species of Zakouma, the priority of park management is to stop the rampant poaching of elephants completely. Initially, a better understanding of the elephants’ movements was needed, and to achieve this, satellite GPS collars were fitted on individuals in different herds. Anti-poaching patrols became a year-round activity and a central radio control room, manned 24/7 by trained operators, was introduced to monitor the elephant movements and patrol positions throughout the day.
The deployment of anti-poaching patrols is activated from this control room on a daily-basis, based on information on-hand each day. An extensive VHF radio system was put in place to provide communication within the entire elephant range, patrol methods were adjusted and information gathering was improved. A toll-free telephone number was introduced and widely advertised throughout the country to encourage information flow to the National Centre for Elephant Protection in N’Djaména.
Since African Parks took over the management of the park and a comprehensive programme to combat poaching was launched, elephant poaching was brought under control for a period for three years which allowed the herds to settle. Further more, the elephants have recommenced breeding following a lull of several years with many calves now being sighted – a clear indication that the herds are recovering from the stresses they experienced in the past.
US Marine training for rangers
Zakouma hosted 15 US Marines for a four-week infantry training exercise for 100 Chadian Mobile Brigade rangers. The exercise was designed to support Chadian initiatives in combatting the illicit trade in ivory and other wildlife products, and was coordinated by the US Embassy in Chad and funded by the US National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking, in conjunction with the Chadian Ministry of Agriculture and Environment.