Parks & Wildlife – South Sudan

Thursday, 30 May 2024

My April travels through Africa took me to African-run projects in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, in particular Food4Education. Then I explored the Lake Turkana area of north Kenya, landscapes and the tribes and people of the region. Continuing to South Sudan the abandoned Jonglei Canal and the huge – and equally comprehensively abandoned – canal excavator, nicknamed Lucy, certain illustrated the human impact on South Sudan.

▲ African Parks’ ultra-light aircraft departing Ottalo in the Boma National Park

Most of my time in South Sudan, however, was spent in Boma and Bandingilo National Parks. African Parks mission is to administer and protect national parks in places where the government doesn’t have the necessary capabilities. That certainly applies to those two parks, lots of lightly populated country, lots of wildlife, but no tourists to pay for it. African Parks has set up bases in the two parks and have started training park rangers.

◄ ▲ White-eared cob migration

Visitors to South Sudan can see giraffes, elephants, lions, hippos and crocodiles, but it’s the immense number of white-eared cob antelopes which are the big wildlife attraction. They’re closely related to reedbucks, waterbucks and lechwe and recent counts estimate there are over five million cob migrating across the country. This even dwarfs the much better known wildebeest migration of East Africa and if you throw in another half million migratory antelope species the South Sudan migration approaches six million.

▲ West of the Boma National Park a winding river separates South Sudan from Ethiopia.

◄ The empty and very rough main road from Nyat, the main settlement in the Boma National Park, to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, underlines just how lightly populated this area is. Driving between Nyat and Juba is a tough trek at the best of times, in the wet season the road is impassable. There seemed to be an awful lot of territory between the odd settlement and at the start of the wet season it was often green enough to make a citizen of Ireland jealous

▲ I hope it stays asleep a bit longer

In the Bandingilo National Park I went out with a group of the park staff darting wildlife – an eland, a roan and a reedbuck in the antelope group, plus this lion – in order to equip them with tracking collars while they were tranquillized. I’d just checked its mouth – yes those teeth are as big as my thumb – and felt its tongue – yes it is indeed surprisingly rough, but I certainly didn’t want it waking up until I was well out of the picture. The antelope we simply stepped back from as the drug wore off and they woke up thinking ‘what the hell happened?’ The lion was a different story.

◄  The bird life was equally prolific including the iconic and decidedly prehistoric looking shoebill (photograph by Brad Hansen)

▲ Between Boma to the east and Bandingilo to the west is the Sudd, the largest expanse of wetland in Africa. The Sudd could have been irreparably damaged if the Jonglei Canal had been completed with the plan to drain the Sudd into the Nile River.

▲ We saw huge herds of white-eared cob moving across the Sudd.

▲ There were often cob surveying the swampy scenery from the little islands that rose above the water level. Phil Snyder’s book Boma: Behind the Grass Curtain tells the story of his much earlier attempt to establish the Boma National Park, an undertaking which completely collapsed with the outbreak of the civil war between north and south Sudan. One chapter relates his nerve-wracking flight across the Sudd as his light plane begins to misfire. Yes this would absolutely not be a good place to make a forced landing.