A travel guide to Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, East Africa
The Selous Game Reserve
The Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania was proclaimed a Unesco World Heritage site in 1982 because of the diversity of its ecology. It was at this time that elephant poaching in the reserve was in full swing with almost twenty a day being killed by poachers.
Proclaimed a reserve in 1896 by the German authorities to preserve not only the animals but also the vegetation the park has been through a number of major unsettling incidents, not least of which was World War 1.
Early explorers and adventurers
Early explorers who traveled through the region in the latter parts of the 19th century recorded very little wildlife, in particular a lack of elephants. In fact one of the explorers had to visit a zoo on his return to Scotland to see an elephant.
Much of the fighting in WW1 occurred in areas of what is now the reserve and it was here that the legendary explorer Courtney Selous was killed by a snipers bullet. His grave can still be found in the Beyo Beyo region. The reserve was named after him by the British authorities who had taken over control of the territory known as Tanganyika after the war.
The next major disruption to the Selous was with the onset of rampant elephant poaching in the 1980's and 1990's. More than half the reserve's huge elephant herds were wiped out during this time and the rhino population was decimated.
The park suffered financially through underfunding and the staff were/was was unable to properly protect the wildlife from poachers. In an attempt to solve the problem trophy hunting was introduced by the park management as a way of bringing in funds for the management of the reserve.
Hunting is still allowed in the greater part of the park today, however the northern region along the Rufiji River has been set aside for photographic tourism. This region boasts the highest density of game in the park - due to the attraction of the Rufiji River.
A wilderness Eden
The elephant population of Selous has recovered remarkably from the poaching that almost saw its demise. A population of less than 4000 at the height of the poaching to more than twelve thousand today is an indication of not only the strict protection placed on the wildlife but also the suitability of the reserve to wildlife.
Results of the hunting that still occurs in the park today can be seen in the reaction of the wildlife to vehicles where certain species will not allow game viewing vehicles too close. 'Skittish' is a word used to describe the wary behaviour of animals toward humans and this arguably stems from the hunting practises in parts of the reserve. The guides in the photographic concession areas are slowly habituating the animals to vehicles - a process that is certainly working judging form my last trip to Selous.
The Selous has a number of species that are thought to be sub-species due to subtle differences that have been noticed. Species that are been looked at are the zebra, giraffe and wildebeest.
The wildebeest of Selous is generally considered a subspecies, Connochaetes gnu niassa, and a close inspection reveals a difference in colouration.
Migration trails and the future
Studies have revealed that Selous was once part of a migration trail, and in particular elephants, that took in the northern reaches of Mozambique. It is envisaged in the future to open the corridor between Selous and Niassa Game Reserve in Mozambique to animal migration. This will form the greatest wilderness area in Africa.
Although Selous is Africa's oldest proclaimed wilderness area relatively little study has been done on the region. Botanical and faunal studies have been limited and much still has to be discovered about the region.
Literature about the Selous has been sparse but two great books written in the seventies are essential reading. Peter Matthiessen and Hugo van Lawick's Sand Rivers provides a detailed account of a month-long safari through the Selous and Secret Eden by Eric Robins describes a researcher's thoughts on the reserve.
Selous Game Reserve is destined to hold an iconic position in African wilderness areas and will become one of the most sought after destinations for tourists and researchers alike.
Selous Game Reserve Safari Lodges
See Selous Game Reserve Safari Lodges in Tanzania.