In Chad, the Elephants (So Many Elephants) Are Back

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There are now more than 500 elephants at Zakouma National Park in Chad.CreditKyle de Nobrega/African Parks

By Rachel Nuwer

May 14, 2018

“If everyone’s stomachs are up to it, we can go see the elephants,” said Rian Labuschagne, his voice crackling through my aviation headset.

Receiving the thumbs-up from his three passengers, Mr. Labuschagne, who was then manager of Zakouma National Park in Chad, steered the fixed-wing Cessna C180 toward a spot 12 miles south. Earlier that morning, his rangers had spotted the elephants there.

It was precisely these elephants that had drawn me to this remote Central African park. Although few Westerners have heard of it, Zakouma is home to one of the most stunning conservation success stories in Africa. Unchecked poaching had previously rendered the protected area a near war zone: as rebel factions attempted to overthrow the government from 2005 to 2010, poachers took advantage of the country’s lawless state to massacre 90 percent of the park’s elephants. But after taking over Zakouma’s management in 2011, Mr. Labuschagne and his team transformed it into a rare safe haven for Africa’s imperiled elephants.

“If you look at the Central and West African savannas, elephants have almost been exterminated — their populations are just being lost nonstop,” said Chris Thouless, the director of the Elephant Crisis Fund at Save the Elephants, a nonprofit organization based in Kenya. “Zakouma, however, is an outstanding exception.”

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