elephants from the air, Zakouma, Chad


Zakouma National Park is not on everyone’s radar but it should be. The fact that you have got this far is a good sign.

If you are well-travelled and have been on safari in Africa already and looking for something different then Zakouma is for you.

Zakouma is 3,000 square kilometres, a sixth of the size of the Kruger. Its habitat is varied and in parts reminiscent of Kafue and Luangwa in Zambia and also Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. The park is largely flat riverine forest and grassland plains. Large pans, around which numbers of wildlife and birdlife congregate in the dry season, are dotted throughout the park. Lonely inselbergs rise up on the horizon.


Entrance sign, Zakouma, Chad
Zakouma, Chad

A little more about Zakouma

The elephants are the poster boys of Zakouma and a rare conservation success story. Their numbers spiralled down from an estimated 4,000 in 2005 to around 450 in 2012. However, since the involvement of African Parks, security has improved, so too community engagement, and the decline in elephant numbers have been reversed.

Poaching has almost been completely eradicated and numbers are once again rising. Extraordinarily, these elephants all live in one single super-herd.

lady on donkey, Zakouma, Chad

Nomadic communities

During the dry season nomadic herders settle around the park. Visiting these communities reminds you of the hospitality and generosity of such peoples. It also gives you the opportunity to visit the local markets – there is a bustling trade between the nomads and local villagers. In particular the village of Kach Kacha where every Saturday there is a large market. On one hand there is a market for livestock, largely male dominated, and the other small rickety stall selling a variety of goods from salt to nuts, from leather to brass bells, from to mobile phone chargers. Photography is not generally well received in the market.

Walking along the river, Zakouma, Chad
Zakouma, Chad

Seasons of the park

Zakouma endures extremes. Heavy rains from June until October floods the park creating a wetland area not dissimilar to the Okavango. From November until May, no rain falls and the water recedes – the only reminder of rain being the watermark a metre and a half up on trees. As the rivers and pans recede, the wildlife and birdlife congregates in vast numbers offering awe-inspiring sightings.

antlope, , Zakouma, Chad

Wildlife in Zakouma

The highlight of any trip is seeing the main herd of elephants, often over 400 in number. Buffalos have increased from 1,000 to 10,000 and these are Central African savannah buffalo which resemble a cross between cape and forest species. There is a healthy population of lions, approximately 130 in total, and leopards.

Giraffes (Kordofan) are integral to this region and indeed are the emblem of the park. A healthy population of roan antelopes means that herds of over 50 can be seen grazing alongside tiang.

Other antelope include waterbuck, Lelwel’s hartebeest, red-fronted gazelle, oribi, bushbuck, and Buffon’s kob.

On night drives you are likely to see serval, genet, white-tailed mongooses, wild cat, pale foxes and side-striped jackals.

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Carmine Bee eater, Zakouma, Chad
Zakouma, Chad


Arguably even more spectacular than the richness and variety of Zakouma’s mammal mega-fauna is its birdlife – definitely a highlight of Zakouma. Sandwiched between desert and rainforest, Zakouma National Park is the first suitable habitat after the Sahara and thus vast numbers of water birds and wildfowl crowd Zakouma’s pans – flocks of well over 500 are common and crowned crane are often seen in numbers of over 2,000.

Around the pans, such as Riguek, in March/April locusts arrive in their hundreds and thousands – an explosion of food and energy available that attracts a huge concentration of birds from kites to maribou storks. The Abyssinian ground hornbill stalks the land like a prehistoric predator. The startling dazzle of the blue of an Abyssinian roller darts past. The steps of the maribou stork are measured as if holding his hands behind his back. A Senegal Coucal hides patiently in the shade. Ducks take to the air as one in a squeak of sing-song chatter. Crowned crane take to the air, the beat of their wings ponderous and slow. They seem to be making little headway, frozen in the air and then their efforts pay off. The fluttering hover of the carmine bee-eater. High above, a Batleuer eagle floats scanning the grassy plan for snake and frogs.

But best of all were the pelicans. They are skittish and difficult to get close to and inevitably in trying to do so one takes flight, triggering wave after wave after wave of pelican filing onto the runway like WWII bombers. Within minutes several hundred pelicans are airborne gliding the thermals, not a beat of their wings. The transformation is as dramatic as it is beautiful.

The kaleidoscope of birds includes the Egyptian Plover and the Black-capped Gonolek.

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Where to stay

Some of the wonderful places to stay that we frequently recommended.

Camp Nomade £££££

  • Chad
  • Safari and Wildlife Lodge

This nomadic camp stays in a superb position in Rigueik for as long as possible, moving only when the seasons make this difficult. The camp then follows the game for the best viewing opportunities. Nomadic in style and function but beautifully decorated with Chadian flair. In short, it is luxurious simplicity personified. The attention to detail is exquisite. There is a maximum of eight tents, each of which has a large mosquito net with a canvas roof for shade, providing a 360° view of the wilds. Water in a flask. The shower and loo are set ten paces behind the tent, privacy provided by straw matting. Bucket shower. At night the tents and camp look wonderfully atmospheric as they are lit by lanterns.

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Tinga Lodge £££££

  • Chad
  • Safari and Wildlife Lodge

An old government-style lodge of some 50 years ago overlooking the Rosse River. It is a pretty spot although none of the rooms looks out directly to the river. Most rooms have recently been renovated and upgraded. All are en suite and can be arranged as double or twin rooms. Being thatched and round, these rooms are cool as the temperature can reach almost 40 degrees Celsius in the peak season. All have 24 hours of electricity with plug sockets in the rooms.

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Meet our experts

A passion for travel runs right through every one of our experts - meaning they're always ready with first-hand insight about their specialist countries.

Illona Cross

Born in a small South African town, I have always followed my passion for nature and discovery. After studying Nature Conservation in Pretoria, I was one of the first women to complete a very tough cadetship in the Natal Parks Board. It was here where I cut my teeth in African wildlife management.

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