Rare | South Sudan

South Sudan: A misunderstood mystery

The following slightly edited text first appeared on pro guide Kyle de Nobrega’s own blog. Beautifully told, it details Kyle and Will Jones’s recent trip to South Sudan, the first of its kind by Journeys by Design and certainly one of the first to be hosted by conservation NGO African Parks. Enjoy and if you want to learn more, please get in touch with either Kyle or Will. We can’t wait to get back out there. 

Seven years ago my imagination was stirred seeing a resolution-less few images of a vast wilderness falling off the end of the Earth. Woodlands extended beyond the horizon and herbivore dots filled the foreground. How on earth did we know so little about this mystery in the world’s newest country? Murmurs of speculation and a sporadic series of first-hand accounts (unpublished or inaccurate) have been the totality of South Sudan’s biomass and megafauna records.

Having gained independence in 2012 after a brutal and far too long oppression from the north, Sudan’s split into two should have meant the end of the struggle. Ten years later, the infant south is only just showing signs of germination.

Conservation at scale could not have come at a better time and South Sudan’s unrivalled biomass may ironically prove to be its fertilizer.

Recently myself and Will Jones returned from a 12-day helicopter expedition, facilitated and arranged by our adventure travel organisation Journeys by Design, which covered three core eco-regions in the central, east and southern parts of the country, and hosted both clients and the Financial Times. Most importantly, thank you to those client-guests who not only once again showed great trust in us in delivering this complicated journey, but who have inadvertently formed part of the foundation fabric for positive change in the seasons to follow.

We can attest to the surmountable opportunities in this wild-ridden place that in time will mature and develop beneficially.

From the dream phase to birth, it took two years for this trip to materialise. Thanks to our exceptional African Parks ground team, who understand this dynamic country more than most, we were able to put together the ‘first of its kind’ wildlife safari with an emphasis on scale, habitat and diversity. We can loosely, as few have ever been, call Boma National Park the most ‘famous’ protected area in South Sudan. Beyond impressive, the greater Nile floodplains, Imatong Mountains and the flat savannas of Badingilo collaborate to present an Africa as it was 150 years ago. Game trails cover almost every inch of earth in South Sudan in what seems to be an unlimited wilderness.

From the great wetlands of the Sudd, part II of the journey was in the east near the border of Ethiopia. Known for the unknown herds of migrating white eared kob, the greater Boma National Park and her undulating landscape is core to the migrating masses. Unlike the over-tourism spectacle of wildebeest in East Africa, the kob here are scattered in numbers two to three times that of the wildebeest, spread out across a landscape far larger and completely roadless. For reference, here is a text message I received – dated 4/05/2023 – from a colleague in South Sudan on the first census carried out by African Parks: ‘Yesterday in 4 hours they counted over 250 000 kob, they have already counted over 800 000 and not even in big concentrations yet!!!!! They estimate the kob alone will be over 4 million!!!!’

The trajectory of South Sudan’s fragile future is refreshingly showing signs of hope. At a crossroads of change, this beautiful country has the ability to redefine itself and peel away the ruins of paralysis. In charge of helping realise this potential is African Parks, which has been actively operating in South Sudan for a little over five months.

What they have achieved in this short time speaks volumes about their efficiency and significance for the wild landscapes of the continent we love so dearly. In the words of Honorable Rizik Hassan, Minister of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism: ‘Even in this short period, it has been beyond expectations. The headquarters are being repaired, airstrips created and now this collaring operation. Nothing like this has been done here before. I think, already we have reached a milestone for conservation in South Sudan.’

African Parks’s recent collaring exercise has been the largest ever undertaken in their history with over 120 animals collared. This data will provide the necessary information to better understand the movements of animals over a colossal landscape. We are grateful to AP for letting us join some of their recent collaring and darting.

To end the story of our journey, which will be difficult to define with clarity, we spent the last evening high up in the Imatong Mountains on the border of Uganda. Flying up into the misty belts of afro-montane forest and spending the night in the stars rounded off an experience that will forever, I’m sure, be a pinnacle of our lives and careers.

For more on arranging travel to South Sudan, please do get in touch with Kyle or Will Jones. 

All images by Kyle de Nobrega

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