Selous Game Reserve is the biggest game reserve in Africa, a vast, untouched wilderness. The reserve is home to some of the highest densities of animals in the world and covers an area larger than Switzerland. This is one of few places in Africa where you can drive a whole day without seeing another vehicle, surrounded by pristine nature.
The Rufiji River is the lifeline of the reserve creating wetlands, swamps, woody grasslands and miombo woodlands. Take a boat safari along the crocodile-infested waters or search for some of the last remaining wild dogs and black rhinos on the planet.
In this article:
- About Selous Reserve: History, landscape
- Wildlife and birds: leopards, elephants, black rhinos, wild dogs, hippos and crocodiles
- Getting here
- Best time to visit
- Activities: Air balloon safari, boat safari, cultural tour
About Selous Game Reserve
Located on Tanzania’s less crowded southern safari circuit, Selous Game Reserve covers an immense area of 19,000 square miles (50,000km²). That’s twice the size of Serengeti National Park. In 1982, Selous Game Reserve was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Are Selous Game Reserve and Nyerere National Park the Same Thing?
The northern part of Selous Game Reserve is now officially Nyerere National Park. It was named in honour of Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere. Nyerere National Park includes the Rufiji river and buffer zone to the south of the watercourse. The park is still widely known as Selous Game Reserve.
Originally a hunting reserve, Selous was named after Frederick Selous (pronounced as se-loos) a big game hunter and conservationist who extensively explored East Africa. Selous died in 1917 when he was shot near Beho Beho camp during the First World War. In 1922, five neighbouring reserves were combined to create Selous Game Reserve.
Landscape of Selous Game Reserve
North Selous, or Nyerere National Park, is a no-hunt zone dedicated to photographic tourism. This piece makes up 8% of the total reserve and is a visitor-friendly location for all accommodation and safari activities.
The southern side is the bigger part of the reserve which is divided into blocks and leased as private hunting concession areas. Safari tours do not operate in this region of the game reserve.
Tanzania’s largest river, River Rufiji, defines the landscape of the reserve by providing a year-round water supply and creating a diversity of habitats. The slow meandering river and its tributaries form swamps, palm-fringed channels and lakes while seasonal flooding creates rich grasslands. The smaller Kilombero and Ruaha rivers also cross the reserve.
Stiegler’s Gorge is a 5-mile long (8km) and 330 ft (100 m) deep canyon along the lower reaches of the Rufiji river in the north of Selous. The gorge is named after a Swiss explorer who was killed there by an elephant in the early 1900s. This is also the site for the controversial new dam and hydraulic power plant in the park. Conservation authorities fear the dam will have long-lasting negative impacts on biodiversity and the communities downstream.
Please Note: Construction of the power plant is underway. You may experience more traffic in the form of heavy trucks along the dusty access roads to Stiegler’s Gorge.
Wildlife of Selous Game Reserve
Even though Selous Game Reserve has some of the highest animal numbers on earth, they are well spread out over this immense landscape. Selous’s characteristic miombo woodland is more concealing than the open plains of the Serengeti. Even so, you are likely to check off most of the animals on your list plus some that are special to this reserve.
Elephants of Selous Game Reserve
Historically, Selous Game Reserve had the biggest population of elephants in the world. Sadly, rampant poaching over the last 50 years has reduced this population by a shocking 90%.
But even with the dramatic decrease, thousands of these majestic large mammals still roam the reserve and sightings are regular.
Selous Game Reserve is one of the best places to see wild dogs. About 900 of the world’s 6000 remaining wild dogs can be found here. Also called painted dogs, these canines are some of the most successful predators with 80% of their hunts ending in a kill.
The park has one of Tanzania’s last remaining populations of endangered Black rhino. These shy animals prefer dense bushes where they are well hidden.
Selous is home to the largest populations of puku antelope which graze the flooded grasslands of the park. The reserve also has good numbers of sable antelope, often seen around the northern parts of the reserve. Lichtenstein’s hartebeest is unique to the miombo woodlands found here.
This is a great place to see big pride of lions and males with impressively sized manes. The reserve also has one of the highest concentrations of cheetahs.
Leopard is rarely sighted but you may pick up tracks or other signs of these elusive cats on a guided walk.
Other animals in Selous Game Reserve
A boat trip down the Rufiji river will get you close to some of the thousands of resident hippos and crocodiles.
It is highly unlikely that you will visit Selous Game Reserve without seeing a giraffe, there are around 40, 000 of them! The diverse habitats are also home to waterbuck, greater kudu, wildebeest, eland, impala, plains zebra, Cape buffalo, hyena and primates including baboons, colobus monkeys and vervet monkeys.
There are around 445 bird species in the Selous game reserve. The river system is particularly rich in bird diversity. Look out for crimson flocks of carmine bee-eaters clustered on the muddy sandbanks while pink-backed pelicans, African skimmers and squacco herons stalk the water edge and fish eagles, kingfishers patrol the open waters. At dusk, you may just spot a rare Pel’s fishing owl coming out to hunt.
The Udzungwa forest partridge and delicate rufous winged sunbird are endemic species to this area.
Planning Your Trip to Selous Game Reserve
Getting to Selous Game Reserve
Travelling by Road
By car, it is a 4-5 hour or 136-mile (219km) drive from Dar es Salaam. The route goes through Mikumi National Park and enters Selous Game Reserve through Matambwe Gate. The last 50 miles of this drive is on a bumpy gravel road.
Because of the long drive, many guests prefer to fly into Selous. A trip in a small aircraft from Dar es Salaam will take 45 minutes or 90 minutes from Ruaha National Park.
Best Time to Visit Selous Game Reserve
As with most Tanzanian parks, dry months (June-October) are best for game viewing in Selous. Thankfully, the reserve remains relatively crowd-free over this peak period.
Animals do not migrate away from the north during the year as they have consistent food and water sources in Selous.
The rainy season is November till March. If you plan on visiting the reserve during this time, note that some roads may be flooded. Humidity is also higher, bringing along more mosquitos. Some camps close over this part of the season.
Activities in Selous Game Reserve
Selous has the biggest range of activities of all Tanzania’s parks.
Head out with an experienced guide who knows the landscape and animals. Predators and prey escape the midday heat under shady trees so take a drive before 11 am or after 3 pm for the best sightings.
A unique option for a safari, river cruises on the Rufiji River is a chance to get close to the many hippos and crocodiles on these waterways. Choices range from sunset cruises to half-day trips.
You will never feel closer to nature than on a guided foot safari. Appreciate the little things and learn about tracks and signs.
Fly Camping Tours
A number of camps offer adventurous visitors the experience of sleeping beneath basic tents in the wilderness. An armed ranger and guide will keep you safe as you listen to lions roar and swap stories around a blazing fire.
Take a guided tour to the nearby Mwaseni village. Always ask permission and be sensitive about photographing people.
Hot Air Ballooning
Get an early start and watch the sunrise as you float above the plains. Most balloon safaris include a champagne breakfast.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Selous Game Reserve
Most high-end accommodation is located in the north of the reserve close to the river. There are fewer accommodation options than northern Tanzania but camps here are of the highest quality and strive for low environmental impact.
The no-frills Lake Manze Camp is known for good elephant sightings. Its sister camp Impala is slightly more luxurious but still affordable.
Sable Mountain Lodge outside Matambwe Gate and Beho Beho in the northern part of the reserve are also budget-friendly with options of stone cottages or tented bandas.
Siwandu Camp and Sand River Camp on the banks of River Rufiji are more pricey but luxurious and at perfect locations for game viewing.