I recently returned from a wonderful safari trip to Zakouma National Park, situated just south of the Sahara desert and above the fertile rain forest region in Chad, located in central Africa. The park is the size of Rhode Island and highlights one of Africa’s greatest transformation stories. The anti-poaching Mamba Teams protect the parks elephant's and have restored hope in their community by providing law enforcement, schools and technology geared at tracking illegal activity destroying their region's wildlife.
In 2010, 95% of Chad’s wild elephants (over 4000) were slaughtered for their ivory by poachers. Now that African Parks have 4 Mamba teams of 6 rangers each, trained by the French Elite Military managing the area, the number of elephants are growing and they're finally breeding again. Our personal Mamba Team was informed, professional and very friendly. They showed us how to follow the elephant herd and after trekking on foot we found a group of about 30! Today with the help of this brave team, the park's elephant population is thriving with 559 elephants and their calves.
The Mamba team never stands together or even sits beside each other at the camp they set up each night while following the herd. In 2012, 6 of the rangers were kneeling down together for their morning prayers when they were tragically gunned down execution style by poachers.
At the park headquarters where all the activity in the park is tracked, the animals, including elephants, cape buffalo and giraffes have been fitted with satellite collars allowing park management to monitor them and deploy field patrols accordingly. They spoke about the negative effects of social media for the animals and how a guest innocently posting a photo of the elephants while tagging their location can result in the animals being tracked by the poachers who then know where they are.
We also had the opportunity to go to the large outdoor market in the middle of the desert where tents and stalls provide the only shade from the 130-degree temperatures. There were thousands of villagers using modes of transportation from walking, horseback riding, motorcycles and carts pulled by donkeys. All the men were wearing traditional robes and turbans while the women were dressed in beautiful, brightly colored dresses and headscarves.
The energy at the market was incredible with all the trading, selling and moving around. You can find anything here from fabric to dishes to cattle. Sizzling under the hot sun were fiery barbecues cooking meat for lunches where everyone gathers to eat. Most of the villagers have come from many miles away to sell and trade at the market before heading home each night.
While Chad is certainly not a country you would want to visit on your first or second time to Africa, Zakouma National Park was a wonderful wildlife experience, perfect for experienced adventure travelers looking for something off the beaten path. Between halting elephant poaching and increasing animal populations to being one of the biggest employers in the region providing community outreach and building schools, this remarkable national park has transformed the area.