We have always admired the famous safaris of Africa – Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, Queen Elizabeth and Kruger. While a lot of these national parks are printed in every mainstream magazine and website, you might be surprised to know that there are some other areas in Africa that are much larger, much more diverse and even more remote. In fact, leave alone all of Africa, even if you looked at Tanzania alone, you would be amazed at the number of national parks and reserves that are part of a single country. A typical Tanzania safari would be filled with the famed areas like the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Manyara. However, these lands are not enough to tell the entire tale – there lies a vast chunk of land in southern Tanzania that is extremely large and equally remote.
The Selous Game Reserve, named after the big game hunter and conservationist who died on these lands during the First World War while fighting the Germans, is the largest game reserve in all of Tanzania. Measured at a whopping 50,000 square kilometers, the Selous Game Reserve stands as the largest game reserve in all of Africa. A large part of the area is still separated for game hunting purposes, but the entire activity is performed in a controlled manner such that populations are not affected and income generated toward the safeguarding of the entire area. It is relatively undisturbed by human population, thereby providing high concentrations of animals as well as plants. Most of the area is a hunting reserve whereas approximately 8% of the area is reserved for purposes of photography and filming. Some areas of this reserve are so remote that you might be stepping on land that has never been visited by anyone else! Read through to get an idea of the vast diversity that is harbored at the Selous Game Reserve.
Topography & History
The Selous Game Reserve is located in the southern part of Tanzania. It is literally bigger than Switzerland. It is also approximately four times the size of the Serengeti! We are talking gigantic proportions – one of the largest areas dedicated to the conservation of wildlife. The game reserve is dissected by the Rufiji river that also acts as a divider between the zones that are open to tourists and those that are not. North of the Rufiji is the area open to tourism. While the Rufiji is the perennial source of water, there are other volcanic springs and lakes dotted along the vast ecosystem that attract several animals and also form several ecosystems. First designated as a protected area back in 1896, the Selous Game Reserve was classified as a hunting reserve in 1905. Over the years, explorers, as well as scientists, began recognizing the vast diversity and richness of the area. While the continent was being annexed and torn apart, a few of these areas were left out of the battlefields. Finally, in 1982, the Selous Game Reserve was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site courtesy of its unmatched plant and animal diversity. Not only this, the game reserve also houses a tremendous collection of ecosystems that range from woodlands to swamps and groundwater forests. The fact that it was relatively untouched by humans adds value to the place. It still stands as one of the most cherished pieces of land in East Africa and is valued for the exact same things for several decades.
Plant & Animal Diversity
The Selous Game Reserve houses some of the highest concentrations of plant and animals ranging from the great African elephant to cheetahs and birds too. It is known to be home to the largest concentration of elephants in all of Africa – more than 100,000 according to some figures. Apart from the elephant, the reserve is also home to high concentrations of other endangered animals like the black rhinoceros – approximately 2100 according to recent figures. It is also home to the highest concentration of hippopotamus and buffalo.
As is the case with most reserves in Africa, the number of ungulates is also attractively high. The Nyassa wildebeest, the greater kudu, sable antelope, elands and hartebeests are very common in the rich southern forests. While these creatures occupy the land, the Nile crocodiles line the Rufiji. Along with these are over 350 species of birds including certain endemic species like the Rufous-winged sunbird and Udzungwa forest partridge. The shores of the make for some spectacular viewings of animals as lions are also easily spotted along the more remote parts of the river. It is also a great place to watch the interaction of these animals and witness some unabashed and violent action if you’re lucky!
Great animal concentrations only sustain themselves if three things are available: vast areas, lack of human intervention and vast diversity of flora. When it comes to plant variety, the reserve is highly respected for the diversity of ecological zones as well as plant species. The most common type of vegetation is the Miombo woodlands that are deciduous in nature. More than 2,100 plant species have been recorded within this ecological zone. Other than this, different areas have different types of vegetation including acacia-clad hills, groundwater forests, lowland rainforests as well as wooded grasslands.
Selous Game Reserve is also one of those destinations where you can tweak your safari experience a bit. Tanzanian safaris are often billed as the classic jeep safaris that take you through the vast grasslands as you hope and squint to spot some majestic creatures in the open wilderness around you. While this is obviously possible at the Selous Game Reserve, there are a few other ways in which you can immerse yourself in the safari experience a little more than usual.
One of the famous ones is the boat safari. The Rufiji river with its gushing flow and freshwater is the main source of water where a large number of animals congregate. You will spot some of the most endangered birds as crocodiles stealthily await the next group of land mammals that come to quench their thirst. Vast congregations of hippopotamus will bathe in the waters as lions occasionally come and take a bit of a breather along the shores. The channels of the river also take you into remote lands where the interaction of wildlife is much more spontaneous and natural – you just might be privy to something you never imagined.
The other safari experience that is famed at the Selous is the walking safari. There are just a handful of camps that are situated north of the Rufiji. These are operated by some of the oldest members of the reserve – those who know the adjacent area like the back of their palm. Many consider a walking safari as one of the most enriching experiences that gives one a true idea about the vastness of the area while giving insights into the sheer diversity of the lands.
Owing to the vast diversity of both flora and fauna, walking safaris with experienced guides gives you the chance to gain knowledge like you have never done before. The areas you cover are small, but they can be playgrounds for several acts of nature. Walking through the grasslands might bring you to spot several cats and scavengers cleaning up after hunts. You might even walk onto the river shore that could be buzzing with animal life. So if you get a chance, make sure you take a trip with one of the experienced guides and hop onto a boat and float away into the wilderness!
Planning Your Trip
There are a few options when it comes to accommodation at the Selous Game Reserve. There are some great camps that operate in the northern area of the reserve. You can also pick the kind of living between camps and super-luxurious lodges that are a stone’s throw from where the action happens. The rates will depend on the level of comfort you are looking at, but the staff is highly courteous in most places.
One of the biggest advantages of visiting Selous is also the fact that it is not as popular and crowded throughout the year. If you’re smart and pick a time when most tourists visit the mainstream Tanzanian safaris, you might get a personalized and isolated experience that is most cherished. The best time to go is during the dry season when it is easier to spot animals – June to October. You will also be able to see a lot of wildlife around the water bodies during these months. Most of the guides in this area are extremely knowledgeable and have developed a truly symbiotic relationship with their land. Make sure you take one of the walking tours as the insights they have about these areas might stay with you longer than the photographs even! So pack your bags, clear out some space on the calendar and don’t think twice before visiting this remote and enchanting reserve!