Welcome to the Selous Game Reserve, a treasure of Tanzania and one of the largest protected areas in the world. (“Selous” is pronounced Se-loo.) Imagine a protected area the size of Denmark, blanketed by a primitive wilderness that still holds deep within it many areas that have never felt the footstep of a human being. The idea of such a large and undiscovered area, teeming with spectacular wildlife, beckons to the heart of the adventurer.
Immediately upon arriving here, you will notice this place is unique. The massive size of the wilderness here is all-consuming. As your gaze skims the horizon of glassy lakes and towering palm trees, and the lonely cry of a fish eagle reverberates through empty sky, it is easy to feel like the only person left on the planet.
At over 45,000 sq kilometers, Selous comprises 5% of Tanzania’s entire land surface. At an estimated 5,000 visitors per year, the area is uninhabited and mostly untouched by man. Selous was declared a ‘World Heritage Site’ in 1982 due to its unique ecological importance in the world.
Selous is at a lower elevation than Tanzania’s northern circuit, much closer to sea level, and temperatures are elevated. This, combined with the myriad of rivers, tributaries and oxbow lakes creates a sultry and tropical environment. The equatorial sun seems more intense here, especially in the early to mid-afternoon, baking hard-lined shadows on the bleached sandy soil. Evening brings relief as lines of shadows lengthen from the setting sun, eventually dissolving into purple twilight. Finally a million twinkling stars peak out from the black cover of the African night with no light pollution for miles to dilute their magical effect.
Not only is the area beautiful and pristine, but it is also home to some spectacular wildlife. The concentration of wild dogs, elephants, crocodiles, hippos and buffalo here are some of the largest in all of Africa. Wild dogs are one of the most famous of the protected populations here, due to their extreme rarity throughout most of Africa. In addition to wild dogs, Selous offers visitors a realistic chance to glimpse some of the other large African predators, namely lion, leopard and hyena.
Selous is one of the few places where the leopard population actually outnumbers the lion population, although leopards still remain difficult to spot because of their elusive nature. Cheetah sightings have been reported here, but remain very rare. The Selous is also home to many other animals, including black rhino, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, impala, bush buck, water buck, eland, sable antelope and the greater kudu. Selous is definitely a bird watchers paradise, sporting over 440 different species!
A patchwork of grassland and miombo forest blanket the reserve’s interior, heavily dominated by the latter. Groves of impressive Borassus palm trees, some over 25 meters tall, hem in a watery labyrinth of channels and cannels that weave their way through a network of emerald swamps and glassy lakes. The watery wonderland opens up possibilities for a whole new way to explore that is completely unique to Selous – safari by boat.
There is just something very special about floating within a few feet of a massive crocodile basking eye-level to you on a sandbank, jaws slightly cracked open in a mock smile, pearly whites to glistening in the sun. Or drifting in silence down a watery canal while groups of submerged hippos bob silently all around, eyes just barely breaking the surface of the water with a long stare that continues to follow you long after you pass by.
The boat engine allows you to change speed as needed. You can move quickly out of the way when that burly male hippo splashes violently towards you in a mock charge. Or you can putter along at a more leisurely pace, the gentle hum of the motor purring behind you while your gaze skims the horizon for wildlife. Rather you might turn the engine off completely and simply drift down a watery canal to the subtle chorus of chirps, cries, wails, splashes, croaks and a myriad of other unidentifiable noises that are the life of the Selous.
Although Selous is a beautiful reserve and has a lot to offer, it is good to know what to expect before making the trek here. It’s true that Selous covers a massive area of wilderness, but touting uninhibited exploration of the entire area would be misleading. The Rufiji river (Tanzania’s largest river) and the mighty Ruaha (a mighty tributary) divide the Selous into two disproportionate sections.
Approximately 90% of the Reserve lies south of the river and is set aside exclusively for controlled hunting safaris through privately leased concessions. Part of the northern section has also been reserved for hunting. That only leaves 5% or so of the reserve’s total area for the photographic safari, while the rest of the reserve is more or less “off limits” to the casual safari enthusiast. Luckily, wildlife is plentiful in the area which has been set aside for photographic safaris. However, since much of the Selous is covered in dense overgrowth, impenetrable forest or impassible swampland, the wildlife still has lots of nooks and crannies in which to hide.
Therefore, game viewing can be a bit more difficult here compared to some of Tanzania’s more open parks of the North, such as the Serengeti. It is also worth noting that some of the animals here tend to be a bit shy and more difficult to approach. Even the photographic area of Selous sees very few visitors annually, so most animals here don’t ever become habituated to the presence of humans.
Also, animals that have been exposed to those areas of the Reserve where hunting is allowed may be more skittish and wary of humans. For these reasons we only recommend Selous as an extension to enhance a solid itinerary that already includes some of Tanzania’s northern parks to ensure the quality of our guests’ overall safari experience.