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Tag: Nature

An incredible week in Chad at Zakouma National Park

A conservation success story, Zakouma National Park is back from the brink under the solid management of African Parks working alongside the Chadian government. Poaching has been practically eliminated in the park and the elephant population is on the rise for the first time in 10 years. Zakouma is one of the most inspirational and surprising conservation success stories in Africa.

Zakouma is 3,000 sq km of pure abundance, the sky is constantly moving with birdlife, the pans and grasslands are teeming with mammals and the river is choc-a-block with crocodiles. It is unlike any other National Park we have visited and is a truly remote, wild and special place.

It was just over a two hour flight from N’Djamena in a 12 seater Cessna Caravan, passing huge inselbergs on the way. We were greeted at the airstrip by Mathieu the manager of Camp Nomade and our two guides for the week Bonaventure (appropriate name!) and Mohammed. We jumped in the brand new Land Cruisers, kitted out with comfortable leather seats and bespoke spaces for camera equipment and set off for Camp Nomade. We came across a large herd (journey) of giraffe, numerous raptors & birds and a number of reedbuck and waterbuck.

With excitement, we were shown around the camp, which is modelled on the traditional nomadic camps of the region and is beautifully decorated with brightly coloured carpets, leather, wood and brassware. There are eight tents, each tent consists of a mosquito net ‘box’ which could also be described as ‘a room with a view!’ and a stretch canvas above to provide shade. As well as a comfortable bed there is a nightstand and a clothes rail and shelf. There is an adjoining individual bathroom for each tent consisting of local grass fencing screens with a bucket shower, compost toilet and hand wash basin. The tents are spread apart for maximum privacy.

The shared main camp area is full of comfortable cushions on which to recline, relax and enjoy the view of Reguiek pan which is packed full of flocks of birdlife and often buffalo, waterbuck and occasionally mammals such as warthog and lion. The long dining table enables for breakfasts & lunches to be shared in the shade and in the evenings the table is moved outside for dinner. The food is all prepared on site in a large kitchen tent by talented chef Abdoulaye and his team. There is great variety in the food, with tasty and fresh dishes presented every day. We were stunned by the quality of the food, prepared in this hot, dry, dusty and remote place, with no electricity.

With a maximum of 8 guests plus 2 private guides in camp at any time, for the majority of our stay we felt like we had the whole of Zakouma National Park to ourselves. Sightings of wildlife seem all the more unique and special without a crowd of other vehicles alongside. African Parks have an approved list of guides who are able to make bookings at Camp Nomade for 1 week at a time and bring 8 guests. Our booking was with Richard Anderson from Anderson Expeditions. Richard is a knowledgeable and experienced private guide leading specialist trips through Africa and South America. This was Richard’s third time to Zakouma. He brought with him Fraser Gear, another experienced guide, enabling each vehicle to have a private guide as well as the guide/driver from Camp Nomade. Four sets of eyes searching for wildlife are always better than two!

During our 6 night stay we explored as much of the park as we could. Camp Nomade is situated next to Reguiek pan which is a haven for predators, herbivores, primates and birdlife. We spent the first day and a half exploring the Reguiek area and had numerous sightings including lion, spotted hyena, serval, civet, genet, elephant, Kordofan giraffe, Central African Savannah buffalo, Western greater kudu, red-fronted gazelle, Lelwel’s hartebeest, tiang, roan antelope, Defassa waterbuck, warthog, olive baboon and Bohor reedbuck.

I couldn’t possibly list all of the birdlife as the sky, ground and trees were so packed full that it would take a pro birder to remember them all! A spectacle of the pan area is the red billed quelea who come in large, noisy flocks to drink. The quelea are vulnerable to predators when drinking so move with the plan of safety in numbers. This means that at times the sky is dancing with these beautiful formations of quelea swirling around like smoke.

The highlights for us in the Reguiek area were our first ever sightings of serval, such a beautiful cat, (we then went on to see serval every single evening, which was a real treat!) and two male lions feasting on a waterbuck early one morning. One of the lions was determined to guard the carcass from the diving yellow billed kites and crows that were trying to steal titbits and the ever growing number of vultures and marabou stork arriving to attempt to get their share. He was growling at them and took a particular dislike to the kites that were a constant irritant to him swooping down above his head.

 

 

We spent two nights fly camping in the South of the park enabling us to explore the area around the Salamat River. The staff at Camp Nomade set up small mosquito net domed tents opposite the river for us and two compost toilets and a bucket shower complete with privacy screens.

The camp’s chef and food team travelled with us to keep us in the  manner we had become accustomed!

As we sat drinking our sundowners before dinner, the crocodiles in the river began making some guttural, loud noises known as belch barking. It was a little startling at first, as by now it was dark and although between us we had visited many different African countries and seen hundreds or thousands of crocodiles, but none of us had heard them make these noises before. When we shone our torch into the water we could see the eye shine of hundreds of crocodiles reflecting back. The locals think the belch bark is a noise of aggression as there is such a high concentration of crocs fighting for territory in a relatively small area.

The landscape in the South has different features; there is a lot more forested area and less open grassland. Whilst half of the group took a guided walk along the river the rest of us went for a drive to explore the area. We came across a male and a female lion as well as Grimm’s duiker, oribi, Buffon’s kob, Patas monkey and Tantalus monkey which we had not seen in the Reguiek area. We could hear elephants communicating but it was difficult to find exactly where they were. We walked down to the river with Richard and our armed ranger but we had just missed them. We came across a group of the Mamba team of anti-poaching rangers, who spend 10 days at a time in the park travelling on horseback to protect the elephants. The rangers are employed from local communities around the park and undergo extensive training in a number of key skills, including shooting and arrest tactics. It was the first day of their 10 day shift and they were just about to eat their lunch. It was a privilege to shake hands with these men who lay their lives on the line to protect the wildlife from poachers.

We were reunited with the group who had been walking, for lunch eaten at a dining table placed under the shade of a tree in Sourone pan. After lunch, mats were laid out for a rest in the shade before an afternoon drive back to the fly camp. When we passed the area that we had heard the elephants earlier in the morning we could hear them again. It was worth another walk down to the river to see if we would be lucky second time around and boy were we rewarded. We sat down on the bank of the river where on the opposite side around 200 elephants were coming to the river to drink. It was heartening to see so many babies and young, further demonstrating how well the anti-poaching teams are performing. Poaching drove a massive decline in the elephant population, from 4,000 individuals in 2002 to just 450 in 2010. The elephant population is now finally on the rise; with over 550 individuals counted in 2016, this is the first time elephants have been on the increase in the park in over a decade.

After our two nights of fly camping we took a leisurely drive back to Camp Nomade, making some interesting stops along the way. We got out of the car along one stretch of sandy track where Fraser walked us 100 metres along identifying numerous animal tracks & footprints, just in that short stretch. We saw tracks of banded mongoose, striped hyena, crocodile, giraffe, buffalo, civet and genet. It is possible to tell how old the tracks are by whether seed eater birds have walked through them and ant lions have built their traps.

As we drove past African Park’s HQ we saw that one of the regular bull elephant visitors was in the garden drinking from waterhole. There were around 70 local children and adults watching on with rapture, wide smiles on the children’s faces. These locals were visitors to Camp Salamat. The camp’s primary purpose is to offer free accommodation to Chadians who would like to visit Zakouma National Park. It is also used as part of the park’s outreach programmes, when day-long visits are organised during the season to bring children, students and local villagers from Zakouma’s surrounding communities to visit the park.

We also saw a vegetable garden that has been set up by the wives of the rangers to grow veggies and salad that can be sold as fresh produce to the camps. The garden is protected by wire mesh to keep the wildlife out. They are also thinking of setting up a honey farm.

That evening we took an early dinner and then went out for a long night drive around the Reguiek pan. Searching for wildlife at night is very exciting; the guides use a spotlight to look for eye shine. During out drive we were really excited to see an African wildcat. This is another species that has eluded us during our previous safari trips. These cats are one of the most successful hunters with a higher success rate than lion, leopard & cheetah. We also had numerous sightings of genet, civet, scrub hare and a Verreaux’s Eagel Owl.

We were joined at dinner by Leon Lamprecht, the manager of Zakouma National Park. Leon has been the manager of Zakouma since January 2017. Previously Leon was manager at Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo. It was fascinating to talk to Leon about his experiences of managing Zakouma and the challenges that the team face and also all of the good things that have happened since he has been there.  Leon previously served as an officer in the South African Defense Force, so he is able to draw on that experience to help with the strategy for the anti-poaching effort.

For our final full day in Zakouma, we drove to the North of the park. Once again the terrain looked different, with a lot more long dry grass and orange barked trees. Fraser saw tracks of two cheetah and although we didn’t find them it was great to know that there are cheetah present in the North of the park. As we were driving along we came across two lions, a pregnant female and a male together. The female looked like she would be giving birth soon. Further along the track we saw two animals stand up when they heard the car, it was a pair of caracal. This was an exhilarating sight, another first for us! Unfortunately the caracals were very shy and they went and hid behind some bushes, but could see them peeking through.

We reached the boundary of the park and shortly after that we saw lots of people fishing and a huge quantity of livestock around. There were people collecting dry grasses and loading it onto their donkeys to take back to their village. We went to visit a family of nomads who come to the edge of the park to live during the dry season; they travel on their camels along with their cattle and sheep. African Parks have built a school in the area for the children to attend whilst they are in the area. The family consisted of around 20 individuals including lots of children and babies. We sat talking (translated through our guide Mohammed) to the Grandfather and Father of the family; they were telling us about their lifestyle and what it is like to live as a nomad. We were invited to take a look around their camp and meet some of the rest of the family. It was a really enjoyable visit.

Our final sundowner drinks were taken on the other side of Reguiek pan where we were joined by Leon, Mathieu and his wife Victoire. As the sun went down the stars came twinkling out with a spectacular show before the moon rose.

The following morning on our way to the airstrip we came across a pair of lionesses who were walking nervously across the grassland, constantly looking behind them. We stopped the vehicle and one of the lions walked right up to our vehicle to inspect us more closely. It was a fitting end to a wonderful week of wildlife spotting, where collectively as a group we had sightings of lion every single day.

The Park HQ is located next to the airstrip so we went for a quick tour before heading off. We were shown around by Jerome who is the Head of Operations, also the chief pilot and a qualified vet. 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. We saw this in action with the radio operator giving information to the rangers. Anti-poaching patrols are a year-round activity and the central radio control room is manned 24/7 by trained operators.

Somewhat reluctantly we took our flight back to N’Djamena. As the aircraft arrived at the airstrip, a group of new and excited guests disembarked the plane. We were envious of them, knowing what they had to look forward to over their coming week at Camp Nomade. Zakouma National Park is a truly astounding and incredible place, one of the most special parks we have ever visited. An abundance of wildlife, with birdlife unlike anything else we have ever experienced and with an inspiring story of successful anti-poaching and species coming back from the brink.

It is wild and fascinating place, ready and waiting to be experienced by the curious and intrepid and definitely one that is on our list to visit again.

 

African Parks and the conservation success story

African Parks has managed Zakouma National Park since 2010. The Park has become a safe haven for Central and West African wildlife. With security having been restored and wildlife rebounding, Zakouma is now a coveted tourism destination to the benefit of adjacent communities whose livelihoods have improved considerably.

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.

Today the elephant population of Zakouma is on the rise for the first time in a decade, with more than 500 individuals counted in 2018, 81 of which were under the age of three. 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. 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.

 

Camp Nomade

Camp Nomade is erected in Zakouma’s prime wildlife-viewing areas during the driest part of the dry season. It has a very short season, from mid-December to mid–April, making it very exclusive and highly sought after. At the end of the season before the plains flood, the camp is dismantled and packed away until the water recedes and the ground dries out enough for the camp to be rebuilt.

We booked our trip directly with Anderson Expeditions. One weeks stay including return charter flights from N’Djamena, 1 night stay in N’Djamena, airport transfers, all meals and drinks, game drives and activities, laundry and two private guides costs around $10,000 USD per person.

There are two other more basic camps in the park, Tinga Camp set up by the government which is situated on the banks of the Tinga River, surrounded by lush vegetation. It is located in one of the park’s best game-viewing areas and has 24 rooms; and Camp Salamat which is free for Chadians.

Zakouma would be an unusual choice for first timers to Africa and is probably more suited to seasoned safari travellers.

 

Anderson Expeditions

Richard Anderson from Anderson Expeditions arranged the trip and there was a loose itinerary for the week detailed below. The best thing about an expedition such as this is that there is a huge amount of flexibility available, meaning that if drives take longer because you have had awesome sightings or people want to do different activities, it can all be catered for and no one or no activity has a deadline to finish. This makes for a very enjoyable holiday.

27th February – N’DJAMENA, CHAD

On  arrival  in  N’Djamena  you  will  be  met  by  your  expedition  guides,  Richard  Anderson  and Fraser Gear, and your ground team, and road transferred to the Hilton Hotel for the night.

28th February – N’DJAMENA to ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK

After  an  early  breakfast  you’ll  be  road  transferred  back  to  the  airport  for  the  charter  flight  to Zakouma  National  Park.  The  charter  aircraft  is  a  Cessna  Caravan  208  and  the  flight  will  take about  2.5  hours.  On  arrival  in  Zakouma  you  will  meet  your  ground  team  and  game  drive  to Camp Nomade.

28th February to 7th March – ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK

These  7  days  will  be  spent  exploring  Zakouma  National  Park  and  the  parks  perimeter  using Camp Nomade and the mobile fly-camp as nightly bases.

Typically days start very  early with  coffee/tea and biscuits before heading out of camp around sunrise. Depending on the plan for the day you may return to camp for a late breakfast or take a packed breakfast and return to camp for lunch. Days can be made up of game drives, walking, sitting at action-packed pans watching wildlife and birds or any adventurous endeavor which is a good  idea  at  the  time!  Camp  Nomade  and  Zakouma  provides  a  safari  environment  offering complete flexibility in the manner you explore this incredible park, and you and your guide will take full advantage of this adaptability which is possible in only very few parts of Africa. You’ll generally  return  to  camp  after  dark  for  a  well-earned  dinner.  Depending  on  energy  levels  and animal activity in the vicinity of the camp you’ll embark on night drives after dinner in search of the parks nocturnal creatures.

7th March – ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK to N’DJAMENA

A  final  morning  in  Zakouma  before  your  charter  flight  departs  for  N’Djamena.  On  arrival  at N’Djamena  airport  you’ll  be  assisted  with  the  connection  on  to  your  international  departure

 

 

Richard & Fraser are incredible guides, sharing a huge amount of expertise and knowledge, maintaining an excellent sense of humour and being great and interesting company, enabling all guests to enjoy their trip to the maximum whatever their ability or requirements. We would not hesitate to arrange another trip with either (or preferably) both of them some time again soon.

 

Richard has two weeks available at Camp Nomade in 2019; guests are able to book for either 1 week or 2 weeks stay.

 

CHAD

Weather

The climate during the dry season is blisteringly hot with temperatures soaring as high as 42 or 43 degrees Celsius. Early mornings and evenings are more comfortable when the temperature drops down to a pleasant 23 to 26 degrees Celsius. There is very little chance of rain between January and April.

Currency

The Central African Franc or CFA is the official currency although USD are widely accepted (ensure you have new, clean notes).

Safety

At the time of writing, the UK Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to the whole country of Chad and the US Department of State advises to reconsider your travel to Chad. High risk travel insurance which covers Chad is essential for all visitors.

Entry Requirements

Visitors to Chad must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months with at least 2 consecutive/side by side blank pages on entry for stamps. Should there be insufficient blank pages in your passport then entry into or exit from a country could be denied. A visa is required for most travellers to Chad. This has to be obtained prior to arrival from your closest Chadian Embassy. An invitation letter will be provided by Zakouma National Park once your booking is confirmed.

On arrival in Chad it is required for each individual to report to a police station to register their arrival in the country. African Parks can arrange with the authorities for a representative to do this in your place. You will need to bring 2x passport photos.

A “Yellow Fever Ceritficate” is required to enter Chad. You will be asked to show this once you are through immigration.

 

Seeking leopards in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park

Situated on the South East coast, Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s second largest and boasts one the highest concentrations of leopards per sq mile in the world. We arrived with eager anticipation, we were not disappointed.

We flew from Colombo City to Weerawila Airport in a Cinnamon Air float plane! This was somewhat of a surprise to us as we thought we were travelling on a normal aircraft. We took off from Colombo City and after a quick stop for people to get off and on in Kandy we arrived at Weerawila an hour later. It was approx. a 1 hour drive from the military and civilian airport to our meeting point, a huge Buddha statue. There we were met by Sam our guide from Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris  in one of the Land Cruisers. It soon became apparent why a 4WD was required, the roads leading to the camp were muddy and bumpy!

 

After a 10 min drive we reached the camp where we would be spending the next 5 days and we were introduced to the staff. We were given a fresh coconut juice and shown around the camp and taken to our tent.

We spent our first two nights in a mobile tent, with an insect proof sleeping area containing a double bed, bedside table with fan and light and power socket for charging batteries. In the living area of the tent there were two camping chairs and table, a cupboard and a light. Just outside the tent was a flushable toilet with a light and in a separate tent a shower which would be filled with hot water before our return from the afternoon drive.

We sat with Sam our guide and the camp manager Sajith for lunch and what a lunch, the food was absolutely incredible, several different traditional Sri Lankan dishes each bursting with flavour and as each dish was presented Sam gave us it’s name and explained the main ingredients.

After lunch we went for our first afternoon drive. We left around 2:30pm and it took about 30 mins to arrive at the park gate for what is know as ‘block 1’. There is plenty of wildlife to see on the way to the park including macaques, wild boar, black-naped hare, peacocks, peahens, grey langur monkey and a wonderful variety of birds.

Raj & Sam

On arrival at the gate we collected a wildlife ranger from the park, his name was Raj. He came with us on every drive we did in block 1 and was great as an extra pair of eyes spotting and identifying different species. Around 90 mins into our first drive, a peacock had come quite close to our vehicle and we were busy taking photos of it when suddenly we realised up ahead there was a leopard crossing the track! We drove slowly towards her and our excitement levels went through the roof! She was wandering slowly around, sniffing and checking out the area. Then as quietly as she arrived, she silently wandered into the thick bush and she was gone. It was a truly magical moment, she was absolutely beautiful and we felt very lucky!

We left the park at sunset, around 6pm and went back for a shower before dinner.

The food served at the camp during our entire stay was absolutely delicious, authentic Sri Lankan dishes with a fantastic variety each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Spice levels are adjusted to your requested tolerance (so don’t panic if you are not good with too much chilli!) and wine, beer & spirits are all included.
Our next 3 days followed the same pattern, starting with an early wake up around 5:15am with a quick tea/coffee before setting off to Yala National Park to be ready when the gate opens at 6am, meaning you are able to look for the wildlife while they are still active. Morning drives last approx. 3 hours before returning for breakfast. Lunch was at around 1pm after which we left for the afternoon drive at around 2:30pm. The park closes at 6pm and we would have drinks and canapes before dinner at around 7pm.
Sam was a brilliant guide and he looked after us incredibly well and took us on some fantastic game drives where we saw leopards on 4 out of 7 drives and we also saw a sloth bear on the final drive! That was a fantastic end to our stay and we felt incredible lucky. We completed one drive in ‘block 5’ and all of the rest were in ‘block 1.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited the beach at the southern end of the park, where tragedy struck during the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, taking the lives of 47 people. There is a memorial, next to the remaining foundations of a guest house. A sobering reminder of the force and power of nature.

A brief list of the wildlife we saw during our stay aside from the leopards and sloth bear included; spotted deer, crocodiles, elephants (including one tusker), water buffalo, wild boar, monitor lizard, mongoose, macaques, peacocks, peahens, owl, eagles, hares and a superb array of birdlife plus lots of other interesting species. Sam was a passionate guide with incredible knowledge of all the animals and birds in the park and he was a safe and skilled driver. 

 

 

 

 

For our second two nights we were upgraded to one of the two luxury tents, which has air conditioning and an attached bathroom and is much larger. The plan for the camp is to eventually upgrade all of the tents to the luxury style and I am sure they will prove very popular, it was very comfortable. Thank you so much to General Manager Sajith for the upgrade! They are also in the process of building a swimming pool which will be a most welcome addition to the camp.

 

Before we left, we were invited to plant a tree, which was a very special moment. Such a lovely idea and we hope to return one day to see how our tree has grown.

 

We had a brilliant time at Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a stay here. The great conversations with all of the staff during drinks and meals, the outstanding food, the service from the whole team and the exciting game drives made for a wonderful stay.

 

What to pack

  • Lightweight, breathable cotton clothing
  • Jumper/cardigan for morning game drives
  • Camera
  • Sun hat or cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun cream and insect repellent
  • Head torch
  • Small day bag

The Land Cruisers have bean bags for supporting camera lenses and binoculars as well as cold drinks and a snack box.

 

Weather

The average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius all year round and the climate is hot and humid. In the dry season temperatures can reach 37 Celsius during the hottest part of the day. Rains are usually expected during the North East monsoon from late November to January. The rain often comes in short and dramatic bursts before clearing up.

Unpredictable inter-monsoonal rains can occur during March or April.

The main dry season spreads from May to October.

Leopards and other wildlife can be viewed all year round in Yala National Park.

 

Rates

All-inclusive Rate Mobile Tents (Single, Double, Triple or Family Tents)

Adults rate (over 12 years, per night)

  LOW SEASON HIGH SEASON*
1 Adult 475 USD 555 USD
2 Adults 895 USD 990 USD
3 Adults 1 350 USD 1 545 USD

 

Children Rate (per Child, per night)

  LOW SEASON HIGH SEASON*
6 – 12 years 290 USD 345 USD
3 – 5 years 200 USD 250 USD

 

The minimum age for children for our safaris is 3 years at the date of arrival.

 

*HIGH SEASON:

  • Christmas/New Year Holidays
  • Chinese New Year Holidays
  • Easter Holidays
  • Summer Holidays: month of August

 

All-inclusive Rate Luxury Lodge Tent

Adults rate (over 12 years, per Night;)

  LOW SEASON HIGH SEASON*
1 Adult 725 USD 920 USD
2 Adults 1 250 USD 1 600 USD

 

1 extra bed can be added for US$500 (all-inclusive)

 

What’s included in the package?

  • Unique tented accommodation waterproof canvas bush tents
  • Freshly prepared meals, BBQ, and snacks; all cooked with love
  • All drinks, incl. drinks from our international jungle bar
  • Two 3 hour game drives per day in our customized Toyota Land Cruisers with snacks and drinks
  • National park fees
  • Binoculars, tripods, monopods, bean bags, battery charging on board safari jeeps
  • All applicable taxes

 

INFORMATION ABOUT SRI LANKA
  • Sri Lanka has two capital cities – Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte (Administrative) and Colombo (Commercial)
  • There are two official languages; Sinhala and Tami however English is a recognized language too
  • Buddhism is the major religion with approx. 70% of the population estimated to be practicing Buddhists. Other religions include Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
  • Population – approx. 21.5 million
  • Currency – Sri Lankan Rupee
  • Vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road

 

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