Exploring Tourism in South Sudan
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Zeraf Game Reserve And The Sudd

Malakal, South Sudan

The Great Sudd is a swamp the size of England that has blocked exploration from Egypt into Africa for centuries. Alan Moorehead in his book "The White Nile", wrote that for the early explorers searching for the source of the Nile - "...there is no more formidable swamp in the world".

The Nile River flowing north spreads into a huge basin called the "Sudd" (Arabic for "block" due to large floating islands of vegetation blocking the river), and then reappears again as a river near Malakal. During the wet season, the Sudd can reach the size of 130,000 square kilometers (or 50,193 square miles), depending on the outflow from Lake Victoria in Uganda.

The Sudd is a maze of channels and lagoons created by papyrus and other grasses, best seen by using satellite imagery (See our map page and our home page on this website).

The Zeraf Game Reserve protects most of the central part of the Sudd wetland at a size of 970,000 hectares (2,400,000 acres) or 9,700 square kilometers (3,700 sq miles) and was set aside in the year 1939. The game reserve is important in protecting populations of Nile Lechwe antelope, Sitatunga antelope, and Hippopotamus, not to mention the enormous numbers of migrating birds.

A large portion of this reserve is on Zeraf Island, which floods every wet season. The island is bounded on the west by the White Nile and on the east by the Bahr el Zeraf River.

We do not offer safaris in the Sudd or the reserve at this time.

The Sudd was designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International importance on 5 June 2006.

Click the following link for good bird lists compiled for the Sudd wetland:


The great Sudd is the size of England, in the wet season (130,000 square kilometers). The Nile River spreads out into this huge basin on its way north and becomes one of the largest swamps in the world. The Nile then reemerges in the north and becomes a river once again. Above is the main channel of the Nile through the Sudd, with a River barge transporting goods. River transport between Juba and Kosti (1436 kilometers, 892 miles) had no overland alternative until the 1980s.

Dinka village on the Nile during the wet season.

The Sudd provides food and water to a large population of migrating birds, with more than 400 species including Shoebills, Great White Pelicans, and Black-crowned cranes. The swamp is a haven for large populations of antelopes such as Nile Lechwe, Tiang, Reedbuck, White-eared Kob, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, and Sitatunga. Crocodiles and Hippopotami are common. Elephants have been known to seek refuge on some of the islands. Giant perch, tilapia, tiger fish, cat-fish and a host of other fishes inhabit the waters

It is estimated that there are 1013 species of birds in South Sudan, more than any country in the world (Uganda claims 1008 species).

Shoebill at Bor, along the River Nile.

Temporary hunting and fishing camp in the Sudd-drying meat

Floating Island in the Sudd with temporary camp- Robert Caputo photo

The Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk pastoralists use the Sudd and the surrounding area. Cattle, fishing, hunting, and rain dependant agriculture are the means of support for these people who can be found on islands, banks of the river, and on seasonal floating islands of vegetation, who we will visit. Floating islands of papyrus break free of their roots when flooding exceeds 150 cm in water depth. People, animals, and birds make their homes temporarily on these islands until they break up.

Dinka cattle camp on the River Nile. The smoke of cooking fires rises in the wind.

Black-crowned cranes

Male Cinnamon Weaver. This bird is in its breeding plumage in the wet season (June-Aug) and is common in the Sudd.

The Sudd is a maze created by the Bahr el Zeraf River (sea of the Giraffes) branching off from the Bahr el Jebel River (sea of the mountains-the main channel) and then returning to join together near Malakal. Then the Bahr el Ghazal River (Sea of the Gazelles) joins the main river channel of Bahr el Jebel at Lake No in the center of the Sudd. At Malakal, the Sobat River joins the system to flow north as the White Nile. Water levels can fluctuate up to 1.5 meters (4.5 feet) depending on the annual flood. The area of the swamp at full flood extends from Mongalla in the south to Malakal in the north, a distance of 500 kilometers (310 miles) and a width of 200 kilometers (124 miles) from east to west.

River barge used on the Nile.

Juba Nile River Harbor, the departing pointing for the voyage north. River barges loading cargo and people to travel to Khartoum.

Fishermen, in a dug-out canoe, offering their catch for sale.

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