Selous is named in honour of the Englishman Frederick Courtney Selous who lived and hunted in the region from 1871 for around forty years. He gained a reputation as the most accomplished hunter of his age and was also known for his writing; most notably ‘A Hunter’s Wanderings in Africa’. Selous was the right-hand man to Cecil John Rhodes in his campaign to annex present-day Zimbabwe to the British Empire. He also achieved brief notoriety in 1899 for speaking out against England’s war on the Boer Republic of South Africa.
When the First World War broke out, Selous at the age of 60 was made Captain of the 25th Royal Fusiliers and went on to win a DSO in 1916. With his detailed knowledge of the bush, Selous led the chase after the German guerrilla army that presided in southern Tanzania. On New Year’s Day 1917, Selous was shot dead by a sniper close to the banks of the Beho Beho River where he remains buried to date, near Beho Beho Safari Camp.
Five years after Frederick Courtney Selous’ death, the British colonialists incorporated a number of existing game reserves south of the river to extend the plains of the aptly named Selous. The Game Reserve reached its present size and shape in the 1940s, when the colonial government moved the remaining tribes out of the area in a bid to combat a sleeping sickness epidemic. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
Granted UNESCO World Heritage status for its exceptional biodiversity and undisturbed habitats, Selous is Africa’s largest protected wilderness area. Yet at three times the size of the Serengeti, it remains blissfully quiet and undiscovered.
It’s a place of languid waterways and forests dancing with blue monkeys, colobus and rainbow-coloured birds. A place of hot springs, deeply-incised gorges, pretty palm-fringed lakes and wide savannah plains. A sanctuary where game – big and small – thrive in diverse environments.
At its heart, lazy Rufiji River meanders slowly round a wide bend. Its banks are lined with baobabs and tall Borassus palms, sporting fan-like fronds and palm-nut vultures. Low, sandy islands harbour sunbathing crocodiles whereas breeding colonies of carmine bee-eaters pepper the mud cliffs as pairs of fish eagles cruise overhead. Herons deftly ply the shallows while giant ginger-barred Pel’s fishing owls snap frogs from the water.
Boating is spent along the verdant channels gliding alongside giraffes and elephants quench their thirst while watching kingfishers dive and storks pose or simply lie idle.
On land, game-drives track strong prides of lion as you seek out endangered black rhino or join the thrill of the hunt with Africa’s largest wild dog population. You will also wonder at the immense herds of grazing antelope. In fact, Africa’s largest populations of sable and puku migrate through the reserve. You can also take to your feet on superbly guided walking safaris and look out for delightfully little spectacles.
The northern section of Selous Game Reserve through which the broad Rufiji River flows was designated Nyerere National Park in 2019 and has a clutch of wonderfully intimate safari camps. From classic ‘thatch-and-canvas’ bush camps to starlit treehouse retreats and one of Africa’s finest safari lodges, this enchanting park caters beautifully for both indulgence and rustic simplicity.
The prodigiously large mammal populations found here support the claim that Selous Game Reserve is the greatest surviving African wilderness. Buffalo numbers are estimated at 120,000–150,000 and the reserve’s 40,000 hippos as well as 4,000 lions are amongst the largest such populations on the continent. The Selous also harbors an estimated 100,000 wildebeests, 35,000 zebras, 25,000 impalas and significant herds of giraffes, greater kudus, waterbucks, bushbucks, Lichtenstein’s hartebeests and elands. It is one of the most important sanctuaries in Africa for the endangered African wild dog, sable and puku antelopes. There are also huge populations of crocodiles, hippos, spotted hyenas and leopards to name just but a few of the big game species found here.
Historically, Selous has been home to a large proportion of Tanzania’s elephant population. Unfortunately there has been a marked increase in poaching over recent years and elephant numbers are now much lower than they used to be.
More than 440 bird species have been recorded in the Selous. On the lakes, you are likely to find pink-backed pelicans, African skimmers and giant kingfishers. The sandbanks are home to carmine and white-fronted bee-eater colonies whilst pairs of fish eagles, palm-nut vultures, Ibises and palm swifts nest in the borassus palms. Other waterbirds found in the Selous include yellow-billed storks, white-crowned and spur-winged plovers, various small waders, pied and malachite kingfishers.
Pairs of trumpeter hornbill and purple-crested turaco can also be seen between the riparian trees. Also worth looking out for among a catalogue of egrets and herons is the Malagasy squacco heron which is a regular winter visitor while the elusive Pel’s fishing owl often emerges at dusk to hawk above the water.