The local population surrounding Zakouma National Park is low-density, and development surrounding the park is minimal. People are heavily dependent on the natural resources located in the park’s periphery for their livelihoods and food subsistence. Therefore, it is imperative that we work with communities living in the villages surrounding Zakouma, as well as with the thousands of nomads that move into the region each year, to ensure that the park’s natural resources are protected and local livelihoods improved. We have implemented several development programmes—from building schools to facilitating new commercial enterprises—to improve quality of life for individuals residing in the Zakouma ecosystem.
When the wet season pushes Zakouma’s wildlife outwards, migrating animals move through community lands, a zone as large as 20,000 km2 that is shared with 50,000 agriculturalists and 35,000 transient nomads resulting in potential human-wildlife conflict. Community support is essential if Zakouma is going to be sustainable long into the future.
Chad’s dispersed human population makes education complex, and logistical challenges are exacerbated by the fact that many parents cannot afford enrolment fees, and some families need children to assist with the work that comes with subsistence and often-nomadic lifestyles. In Chad, only half of all children attend primary school, which prevents the younger generation from fulfilling their potential and reducing their dependency on natural resources. In 2014, to address educational hindrances while establishing a base for long-term socioeconomic development in the region, we began building ‘Elephant Schools’ in the elephant migration zone.
African Parks further focuses on improving the quality of education by building new schools and improving existing ones, training teachers; and providing improved teaching materials. Our environmental education programme provides local children and adults the opportunity to experience the park first hand. On guided visits, locals learn about Zakouma’s wildlife and environmental issues. Distant groups are accommodated at Camp Salamat for the night, which is available to locals, at no cost, on weekends. In 2019, nearly 3,300 local Chadians participated in our outreach programme, with many children seeing wildlife for the first time in their lives.
Additionally, we expanded our Secko School programme—which is located inside the National Park and addresses challenges posed by a dispersed and nomadic local population—by constructing four new ‘secko’ schools and employing full-time teachers for each one. In total, 17 schools have been built and outfitted, and all school curricula includes environmental materials so that students learn about wildlife, corridors and sustainability. These schools have educated thousands of children and in 2019 we provided more than $37,000 in teacher salaries, efforts which are critical to building a local constituency that will support Zakouma long-term. In 2021, the construction began on three new schools; one school was electrified and four new teachers were recruited, bringing the total to 24 teachers supported by the GZE.
Zakouma has become the largest employer in the region, and the park provides additional opportunities for local income generation by facilitating the local procurement of park and tourism camp supplies and developing commercial community projects, such as honey harvesting and production. Despite the global pandemic, tourism has continued bringing much-needed revenue to the park and local people; and the GZE has remained the largest employer in the region, providing 253 permanent jobs as well as a myriad of enterprise opportunities.
Positive dynamics between the park and local communities are largely due to increased security measures, such as extensive law enforcement patrols in community areas. The park is located near Chad’s border with Sudan, and communities based in these areas suffer from the presence of criminal groups that steal from, and sometimes kill, community members.
Strategic and widespread communications channels benefit animals and people alike. Through them, locals are able to tip off park authorities if they encounter suspicious activity or potential threats to people and wildlife. These channels enable management to react quickly before there is any loss of life while helping local communities take an active role in conserving ‘their’ elephants. In doing so, they contribute to one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories. In a bid to reduce illegal wood harvesting, 500 women were trained to cook on fuel-efficient stoves, of which 80 households from nomad communities received metal cooking stoves. The process to reclassify SMWR as a National Park advanced and will be continued in 2022. A new wave of support from community members for enterprises, including the production and selling of shea butter, honey, balanitès oil, and vegetables was nurtured. In total, 564 community members benefitted from 23 enterprise industries.
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