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Do the resettled villagers support the park? Abakar paused. "They don't care about its importance as a reserve for wildlife. They regret not being able to exploit it." I asked him if the park's future seemed secure. He replied, "If there is money, the park will exist. The park has been good for wildlife." Indeed, as our surveys show, Zakouma has been nothing short of a miracle for wildlife. You can fly for hours in any direction outside the park and find no place else with such abundance.

April 9
With my hand functional again, we were back in action. The final elephant count was 127 herds, with a total of 3,020 animals, almost 900 short of last year. Luis was perplexed. Had we missed a large herd, or had we double-counted a herd in 2005? I had no reason to believe that the drop reflected an increase in poaching. In 1985, I'd participated in a survey, led by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, of the range of elephants in the northern part of the Central African Republic, that yielded a disastrous ratio of live elephants (4,308) to carcasses (7,861). Our dry season survey in Zakouma revealed not even one-tenth that level of poaching.

April 10
The days were scorching and clear. We moved camp to a big water hole on the Tinga, upstream of its junction with the Salamat, pitching our tents just below a low bridge built across four steel culverts. At the end of the dry season, this pool, jade green on a thick bed of sand, had the sweetest water in the entire park. A black kite, dipping its wings and inclining its tail ever so slightly, circled, eyes fixed on the queleas that were spilling onto the water's edge, drinking. A flock of guinea fowl came to the bank, clucking cautiously as they alternated between searching the ground for seeds and checking the sky for aerial predators. In the pool, the mouths of thousands of whiskered catfish dimpled the surface like water striders.

Then, it happened. Elephants appeared on the edge of the bank, juveniles first, followed by a large female. They stood still, listening. The female nudged one of the young males forward. He resisted at first, but thirst and a mother's insistence drove him down the bank. Other elephants followed, pouring down the steep incline, 30 to 40 of them, babies in tow, heads bobbing from side to side. At the water, they dropped their trunks into the coolness, taking deep drafts of the precious liquid before being pushed forward by the horde behind. As the craving for water subsided, the juveniles started to play, dunking each other; the adults retreated to chuck hot sand over their backs. It had been years since I had been treated to such a social display by elephants on the savannas of central Africa. The elephants then filed up the opposite bank to continue their relentless search for dry season forage. Four minutes later, they vanished. The only movement came from a lone sandpiper scurrying along the bank and the red-throated bee-eaters nabbing insects above the constant churn of fish.

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