Our first step in managing Zakouma in 2010 was to overhaul law enforcement by first recruiting, training and equipping an effective ranger team. Due to our ranger’s efforts and strong community engagement, today poaching has essentially been halted. Elephants, giraffe, buffalo and other species have experienced little to no poaching since 2010, and only 24 known elephants have been poached in the last decade. These successes underscore that management can work with local communities to ensure that people and wildlife benefit from increased security.
Zakouma employs 125 rangers, many of whom are from local communities. All park rangers undergo extensive training in a number of key skills, including shooting and arrest tactics. We help expand their skills through numerous training exercises and courses. In 2018, 47 rangers completed Basic Field Ranger training, and 26 rangers underwent advanced tactical training including investigative and information gathering skills. Overall, 13,343 patrol man days were carried out, resulting in 66 arrests that have already led to 33 known convictions. Zakouma also benefits from a specialist Rapid Response Unit, known as the Mamba team.
In the mid-2000s, a wave of elephant poaching hit Chad and Zakouma National Park in particular. Between 2002 and 20010, armed groups from as far afield as Sudan’s Darfur region killed a staggering 4,000 elephants. Poachers mounted on horseback would fire indiscriminately into densely packed elephant herds, killing entire family units.
Armed groups also targeted Zakouma’s rangers. Tragically, on 3 September 2012, six rangers were assassinated at Heban Outpost (90 km north of Zakouma). We immediately began preparing a revised anti-poaching plan to address this new, nefarious threat to human life. Among other things, it resulted in the creation of the Mamba team.
As the African savannah elephant is the flagship species of Zakouma, the priority of park management is to stop the rampant poaching of elephants completely. Initially, a better understanding of the elephants’ movements was needed, and to achieve this, satellite GPS collars were fitted on individuals in different herds. Anti-poaching patrols became a year-round activity and a central radio control room, manned 24/7 by trained operators, was introduced to monitor the elephant movements and patrol positions throughout the day.
The deployment of anti-poaching patrols is activated from this control room on a daily-basis, based on information on-hand each day. An extensive VHF radio system was put in place to provide communication within the entire elephant range, patrol methods were adjusted and information gathering was improved. A toll-free telephone number was introduced and widely advertised throughout the country to encourage information flow to the National Centre for Elephant Protection in N’Djaména.
After assuming management of Zakouma in 2010, we overhauled law enforcement, created communication networks, and began providing expert training to park staff, paving the way for a total transformation. A comprehensive anti-poaching programme quickly brought elephant poaching under control, allowing herds to settle down once more. Only 24 known elephants have been killed since 2010, and no elephants have been lost to poaching since January 2016. Population numbers are rising, and after years of trauma, elephants resumed breeding. In 2011, we counted one calf under the age of five; in early 2018, we documented 127. The elephant population has now surpassed 559 individuals and is on the rise for the first time in a decade. Furthermore, Zakouma’s elephants seem to view the National Park as a safe haven, for they now largely stay within its boundaries— even during the wet season.
Across the board, poaching has plummeted—giraffe, buffalo and other species have experienced little to no poaching during the past eight years—and buffalo populations have risen from 220 in 1986 to 12,000 today.
We doubled our conservation footprint in 2017 by signing an MoU with the Government of Chad to manage the Greater Zakouma Ecosystem, which includes Zakouma National Park and Siniaka Mania Faunal Reserve and spans 30,693 km2. Our expanded management agreement also covers Bahr-Salamat (13,000 km2) and adjoining wildlife corridors (10,000 km2). By managing these additional areas, we can support species that migrate across connected ecosystems.
Zakouma has come a long way since 2010: the park has overcome its dark past to become a symbol of hope for people and animals alike, and its transformation underscores crucial links between security, sustainable livelihoods, and wildlife conservation.
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