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Zany Zesty Zakouma Safari Through the Looking Glass!
A Zakouma safari is amazing … also quirky and unique
Safari aficionados are now able to visit this revitalised wildlife oasis. The park is peaceful, and open to visitors once more, despite its location in the middle of a fairly conflict-ridden part of Africa. The wildlife here is thriving, now that African Parks have made the park secure, following years of violence & poaching. Communities around the park are benefiting from the peace and stability too. The elephant numbers have increased for the first time in years, and the park has already earned a reputation for being one of Africa’s success stories. As a result I’m here to check it out!
Through the Looking Glass
I’ve been on safari many times before, and much of this experience feels the same. Yet, like Alice when she steps through the Looking Glass, I’m constantly aware that I am in a slightly different place from the Africa I thought I knew so well. This adds a certain ‘zest’ and excitement to the trip.
The landscape here looks familiar, yet it is subtly different to east and southern Africa. Acacia bark here is a deep russet red colour, and leaves are different shapes & colours. Birds and animals are the same species but, once again, on closer inspection ever so slightly different.
No ‘shaggy’ animals here in Zakouma!
This becomes our daily mantra! The first thing we notice is the animals coats - all smooth and shiny and sleek, with finer thin fur adapted to the warmer climate here just south of the Sahara.
In addition, bar some of the elderly, they all seem to be fit and healthy and well. This is a marked difference to the end of the dry season in other parts of Africa.
The sheer number of animals and birds here is also apparent. Especially now at the end of the dry season, with vast numbers congregating around the few remaining water sources.
Every day we see most of the larger mammal and bird species while here, and they are all slightly different in some way:
- Kordofan Giraffe have pale legs and bellies. Their pretty irregular patches are a gentle warm chestnut with rich golden separations.
- The mega herds of western & central savanna buffalo are a mixture of black and vivid chestnut, with sleek coats and slightly smaller horns. They seem a tad less irritable than their southern neighbours, and they are certainly much more relaxed. They stampede off in a storm of dust at the sight of our vehicle.
- The crocodiles here are smaller, and are the West African version of Nile crocodile (recently recognised as separate sub species). Our guide said they were ‘pescatarian’ and no danger to animals or man. A fact proved when we watch their fishing skills in the Salamat River.
- Lions are sleeker too here, and perhaps a bit smaller, with less well-defined manes.
- The numerous hartebeest are a very pale creamy colour all over (Lelwel’s subspecies).
- Tiang have paler red and black patches than their cousins further east.
- We see rare red-fronted gazelles – similar to Thompsons, but thinner with a lighter body stripe.
- Crowned cranes are the northern sub species and so once again just a little bit different. We cannot escape their load honking wherever we go. They gather in absolutely huge mega-flocks, along with similarly spectacular numbers of spurwing geese.
- Around camp I spot a Cameroon bushbuck with slightly different markings than normal.
Trauma & Healing
But perhaps the biggest difference from the famous and much more commercial east or southern African parks, is the demeanour of many of the animals - especially the elephant and buffalo. Many of them have been through a lot of trauma and bloodshed during the worst poaching years prior to 2010 when African Parks took over. Many of them obviously distrust humans, and with good reason. They have been hunted for years, so this is understandable. It makes us realise the vital importance of preserving the peace here after so many years of carnage.
The last “incident” was in early 2016 when militants on horseback came into the park and killed 4 elephants, retreating almost immediately. The park’s director Leon tells us that he thinks it was a reprisal or ‘test’ raid due to the speed of the attack, which they responded to rapidly with the well-trained Mamba anti-poaching units.
Yet, just 3 years later, many of the smaller bachelor groups of elephant have learnt to trust once again. In fact those who hang out near the park HQ seem to recognise those humans who are trying to help or just photograph them, versus those who wish them harm. The mothers and young calves who form most of the mega-herd are understandably more nervous and we struggle to locate them towards the end of our week here, but we are told that they are starting to accept and get used to the vehicles.
But now…dilemma! I want to shout about my new favourite safari destination from the rooftops… ZAKOUMA IS AMAZING!!
More visitors will help the park, wildlife and communities nearby to thrive, which would be wonderful.
Yet I also want to keep it a special secret. The park is definitely not for those who care more about luxury or fine dining, with bells and whistles on everything! It is a place for serious wildlife and safari enthusiasts, who don’t mind some challenges to get here. I don’t want it to become ‘tamed’ and mainstream - another Masai Mara, Okavango Delta, or Luangwa or Sabi Sands.
I like the park just as it is now - quiet, raw, and a little bit zany.
So, if you are adventurous, a regular safari go-er, a keen wildlife enthusiast, birder or Afrophile – then step through the looking glass with a Zakouma safari - quiet, quirky and a little bit surreal. I promise that you will love it! But … shhhhh! Please, let’s try and keep it that way!!
(Zakouma is in the National Geographic’s list of “top places to visit in 2020”!)