Wildlife, not only in abundance, but layers of abundance. Animal colours differ, some with a soft Garfield-like brown tinge. Sunsets eclipsed with Harmattan dust blown in from the Sahara are other-worldly as the sun disappears high in the sky, followed by pastels of crepuscular light, that render West African lion, Lelwel hartebeest, giraffe and Buffon’s kob incredibly invisible. The largest population of Kordofan giraffe and Central African buffalo are around. Birdlife is astounding with Sahel specials such as Abyssinian ground hornbill, grasshopper buzzard and stone partridge, culminating in massive flocks of northern crowned crane and northern carmine bee-eaters. That’s if you can see them, as cloudy flocks of quelea, snapped at by desert crocodile while on the wing, may block out the light. Night drives are off the charts and produce amongst others diminutive pale fox, variations of mongoose and jackal, serval and a ballet of standard-winged nightjar.
And then there are the elephants; possibly the most persecuted population in Africa that have returned from the edge with the help of a select group of people who have put their lives on the line. Forever will I speak out against those who claim that Africans do not care about Africa. Once down to a few there are now 600 in the 3000 km2 reserve. Their habits and ecology, adapted to the critical conditions and resolute need to stick together, redefine the laws of elephant behaviour making the Zakouma herds the largest in the world. The story of Zakouma with the elephant poaching and security issues, within the storyboard of recovery and hope, is absolutely unique.
Tinga Camp, originally build in the early 60s was the base for our epic adventures. Beautifully located on the Salamat River, the camp is an ideal springboard to launch game drives, walks and full day elephant excursions. While the day-time temperatures where high, the camp is very comfortable and the prospect of solar power and 24 hour ceiling fans will make a welcome difference. Homely meals are served in the large breezy lounge overlooking the river. The camp staff are great and bent over backwards for us to accommodate many out of the normal requests that made our safari a resounding success.
The terrain in the reserve is varied; from dense riverine, grasslands, woodlands and floodplains. April coincided with the end of the dry season here, and the game viewing around retreating water was staggering. The massive quelea murmurings and concentrations of game at Regeuk Pan, as well as the drying pools on the Salamat river, were the hotpsots. Red-hot spots should I say! At times it was possible to be in eye-shot of seven to eight mammal species at a time.
Our mammal sighting list was impressive with 32 species in total, including regional specials such as: the largest population of Kordofan giraffe in the world, central African buffalo, Tiang, Lelwel’s hartebeest, Buffon’s kob, red-fronted gazelle, Defassa waterbuck, olive baboon, striped ground squirrel, bohor reedbuck, patas monkey and the nocturnal gem, pale fox. The usual suspects we found included, amongst others, elephant, lions, roan, civets, servals and spotted hyena. Night drives were brilliant, noting variations of white-tailed mongoose, side-striped jackals and bushbuck.
Birdlife is pretty spectacular throughout the diverse reserve. There were too many highlights to mention but a ‘special list’ contains the following: standard-winged nightjar, Bedouin’s snake eagle, Abyssinian roller, northern carmine and red throated bee-eater, African silverbill, Clapperton’s francolin, four-banded sandgrouse and black scrub-robin. The volumes of northern crowned crane, comb duck, open-billed stork and red-billed quelea on the floodplains were jaw-dropping.
This is the backdrop; and a tapestry of remoteness requiring three time zones to access. A bonanza of beauty, conservation success and incredible hope from the most unlikely of regions; Chad and the so called dead heart of Africa. A safari here, beyond the frontier, will leave you stirred and speechless.