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Here come the cavalry - Protecting Chad's elephants

30/10/2013 09:18:43

Members of Zakouma National Parks anti-poaching horse patrol unit. Photograph by Michael Viljoen

Horse patrols provide the anti-poaching edge at Zakouma National Park in Chad
October 2013. Horses are an essential part of effective law enforcement and anti-poaching tactics at Zakouma National Park in the Republic of Chad. Since African Parks took over the management of the park in 2010, horse management has undergone significant improvements in terms of horse care, equipment training and guard horsemanship - and continues to do so. Stables, a riding arena, a lunging ring and two camps for the stallions when they are off-duty have also been set up.

Desert horse
The current (horse) stock improvement programme at Zakouma is focused on selling horses that prove to be unsuitable for anti-poaching patrols and purchasing larger, hardier horses. The West African Barb, a desert horse that originated from Morocco and Spain, is the primary breed found in Chad and is hardy and well-suited to the conditions. Zakouma currently has a stable of 40 horses which cost around US$50 000 a year to maintain.

Zakouma Park Manager Rian Labuschagne usually buys horses from nomads at a cost of between US$400 to US$500 each. In June however a magnificent former racehorse stallion called Horus was donated to the park by the Minister of Pastoral Development and Animal Production, Mr Amir Adoudou Artine. Horus has been used on scouting patrols but Labuschagne believes he can also be used during the dry season in the park periphery area to cover the nomads' mares in order to improve their stock. It is one form of assistance the park can offer these nomads who settle in the periphery for half the year.

Rainy season patrols
Horse patrols are particularly well-suited to Zakouma during the rainy season which stretches from May to October, covering the area with water. Horse patrols are dispatched in teams of at least five man/horse pairings for up to seven days at a time and they are in permanent contact with the radio room at Zakouma. The park also implements foot, motorbike and bicycle anti-poaching patrols.

Most Chadians know how to ride horses, it is an intrinsic part of their culture, however additional training is provided at Zakouma. Horse patrols are to be issued and trained in the use of pistols, a more effective weapon on horseback. An anti-poaching consultant currently implementing a comprehensive para-military training programme at Zakouma is instructing horse scouts in the use of these weapons as well as sniper rifles.

Protecting elephants
"Protecting the elephant herds from poachers is a major focus of our game scouts but they are responsible for protecting all the fauna and flora in the park, explained Labuschagne. "They are also tasked with apprehending Arabic gum harvesters, shepherds and fishermen who trespass in the park, not only because it is against the law but, because they are often privy to information about elephants that they could easily pass on to poachers," he said.

The tragic deaths of six Zakouma game scouts who were killed in a poachers ambush last year and on-going threats to people and wildlife have led to a revised, scaled up anti-poaching strategy at Zakouma.

"Although some protected areas are using modern technology such as drones as an anti-poaching tool, we believe that a combination of an easy flow of information from the communities to the park, the use of radios and toll-free telephone numbers, together with effective, para-military-trained game scouts on the ground, and in Zakouma's case, also on horseback, are our best ways of effectively protecting Zakouma's elephant herds, "said Labuschagne.

About African Parks: African Parks is a non-profit organisation that takes on total responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments, wildlife organisations and local communities. We operate seven national parks in six countries: Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Chad. Please see

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