By Dr. Peter Lindsey, Director of the Lion Recovery Fund
In early March 2020, I traveled to Chad to visit the work that African Parks (AP) is undertaking in partnership with the Chadian Government. The Lion Recovery Fund (LRF) has invested heavily in AP’s work in Chad, so I wanted to see that work myself to understand their local conservation issues and assess their needs going forward. Site visits such as this are a key part of my role as Director of the LRF.
I was a little nervous heading out to Chad because, although only a few cases of coronavirus had been recorded in Africa at that time (and none in either my home country of Zimbabwe or Chad), the world was beginning to panic. I worried that I might get stuck somewhere on my journey home. Landing in N’djamena, I was immediately struck by the 110-degree heat. March is late dry season in the Sahel and temperatures are high, sometimes creeping over 120 degrees in Zakouma by the end of the month.
Poaching was rapidly brought under control and since then, an average of just two elephants per year have been poached, with none at all killed in the last 18 months. A key step in securing the park was developing a network of airstrips within it, making the entire park accessible even during the rainy season when the area becomes waterlogged. Prior to that, poachers would attack when rangers were not able to reach remote parts of the park due to the impassable mud. The elephants, previously traumatized, are now calm and have started to recover in number. The latest estimates suggest a population of around 600 individuals reside in the park. Another key factor has been AP’s success at developing strong relations with local communities. The park and the communities share a common threat in the form of the Janjaweed horsemen coming from Sudan. AP has significantly improved security for local people, who in turn readily support the park on information regarding the movement of poachers in the ecosystem.
The park is home to a staggering diversity and abundance of waterfowl. The reason for this is that the area retains large wetlands even during the driest time of the year.
The park also holds an enormous population of buffalo (12,500 individuals), and significant numbers of roan antelope, bohor reedbuck, kob, defassa waterbuck, lelwel hartebeest, and tiang, among many other species.
Since returning to Zimbabwe, I heard the tragic news of 92 Chadian soldiers being killed by Boko Haram close to the Cameroonian border (thankfully far from Zakouma). This kind of instability emphasizes the complexity of conservation efforts in the Sahel and shows that we cannot take the successes in Chad for granted. We need to find ways to increase and sustain support for conservation efforts in West and Central Africa, such as those undertaken by African Parks.