Africa Geographic Travel

A journey into Tanzania’s wildlife-rich Selous

Safari vehicle parked in Selous Game Reserve

© Beate Apfelbeck

Selous Game Reserve is the largest game reserve in southeast Tanzania and part of a vast ecosystem that extends through the Selous-Niassa Wildlife Corridor over the Tanzanian borders into Niassa Game Reserve in Mozambique. Musa has been working there for many years as a wildlife guide in different camps and he thought that finally the time had come to show this beautiful wild place to me and our little daughter, Anna.

We travelled there by car, taking the rough road from Morogoro to Kisaki, intending to enter the reserve through Matambwe gate, while most tourists fly into the reserve and enter from Mtemere gate. After leaving the busy city of Morogoro the road passes through uncountable small villages, over several rivers, hills and beautiful pristine forests. Coconut palm trees line the road in many places and the huts of small-scale farmers seem to be one with the earth they are standing on.

The road to Kisaki in Tanzania

The road to Kisaki © Beate Apfelbeck

Although it is only a relatively small town, Kisaki seemed way too busy with its many shops and people after the peaceful, but long, drive. As it was already late afternoon, we decided to sleep at a campsite outside the reserve. I was glad to leave Kisaki behind.

Giraffe in Selous Game Reserve

© Beate Apfelbeck

The campsite was on a small hill within a forest and one could glimpse spectacular views of the surrounding landscape through some gaps between bushes and trees. We were hosted and guarded by Joseph, a young Maasai warrior who slept – only wrapped up in a blanket – not far from our tent and who soon befriended Anna. The rest of the time he was absorbed with his smartphone – just as any teenager nowadays anywhere in the world seems to be.

The next morning, we started off early – excited to finally enter Selous.

Wildebeest in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

Our joy was, however, somewhat abated by the road construction works all the way to the reserve and as we should find out later, also in some parts within the reserve. The formerly small rough road was broadened considerably and many old trees had to give way. The works are evidence of the planned construction of a huge hydropower dam right within the game reserve at Stiegler’s Gorge where the Great Ruaha River flows into the Rufiji River.

Fish eagle eating in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

Still, Selous turned out to be a wonderful wild place with teeming wildlife. Bush country dominated by whistling thorn acacia was broken up by several lakes framed with doum palms and miombo woodland.

The lakes and the rivers were full of hippos and crocodiles which formed small islands that were frequented by egrets, storks and ibises. Fish eagles emitted their high-pitched cries watching the life in the water from the top of dead trees.

Hippos in water in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

At every corner giraffes popped up their heads, impalas kicked their legs, warthogs ran tail-up, wildebeest eyed you suspiciously and waterbuck drank at the lake shores. We hardly saw any buffaloes and elephants though, as they spent most of their time hidden away in the dense palm forests.

Lions sleeping in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

Though there were lions everywhere! One pride had been spotted at Tagalala campsite – where we intended to spend the night – just the day before!

Male lion in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

Our most cherished sighting, however, was a pack of three African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) who spent the day lazily dozing away in the coolness of water holes that elephants had dug out in a dried-up sandy riverbed. Wild dogs are endangered and a rare sighting.

Small wonder that the news had made the rounds and every single camp sent their cars there! We were lucky that the sighting was close to our campsite, so we came back in the late afternoon and watched them until they decided to leave their holes, stretched, yawned and off they went!

Wild dogs resting in sand hole in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

In the pristine forests of Selous, eastern black-and-white colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza) can be found. One group of them lives just outside of the reserve at the camps near Mtemere gate. The colobus monkeys choose among the many trees to rest, feed and sleep.

Two wild dogs in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

In Selous several rivers – including the Great Ruaha, Kilombero and Luwegu – join into the mighty Rufiji River which carries its waters into the Indian ocean. The Rufiji River is the heart and the soul of the reserve and an important water source for animals and the people downstream of the reserve alike. I very much hope that the planned dam in the Rufiji River will not destroy this beautiful wild place.

Rufiji River in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

Rufiji River © Beate Apfelbeck

A night at Tagalala campsite

We spent two nights at Tagalala campsite, the only public campsite in Selous. The campsite is located close to Tagalala lake, uphill from its shores. Although one does not have a good view of the lake because of the many bushes and trees, one fully profits of the daily and nightly concerts of its many inhabitants.

We arrived there late in the afternoon and immediately started on all the chores connected with camping: we set up our tent, collected firewood, and started preparing a simple meal with our gas cooker. A flock of white-browed sparrow weavers soon settled back in their favourite bush chatting away noisily. Some bolder individuals frequently ventured onto the ground to better follow what we were doing, and scattered away into the safety of the bush whenever we came to close.

Crested barbet in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

Crested barbet © Beate Apfelbeck

Soon the sun began to set and Musa lit up a crackling campfire. A bright moon bathed the landscape into a faint light. Trees and bushes turned into shadows and we pricked our ears for the sounds of the night.

The hippos started their daily migration from the lake to their feeding grounds, while some few individuals stayed back in the water to claim their territorial rights.

“Hiiiihohoho, hiiiiihohoho” boomed their voices through the night.

Hippo charging in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

Suddenly, I heard a cracking noise, like somebody eating a carrot. I switched on my torch and discovered the sparkling eyes of a genet only two metres away! We both looked at each other startled, then the genet moved back into the shadows, but remained close to our camp site all night long, moving noiselessly around. In a safe distance a shy civet cat also passed our camp.

We settled down to quietly enjoy our meal, when Musa suddenly tensed and turned around…

Klack klack klack, the sound of their claws announced their arrival before we could make out the shadows of spotted hyenas. They were a group of four steadily moving in our direction. Apparently they were on their daily routine check of the camp for leftovers and scraps and did not realise our presence before we shone the light of our torches into their eyes.

Musa got up and moved threateningly towards them and they scampered away. But they also did not move away far and we could make out their shapes moving in and out of the light of the moon until we went to bed.

When we finally cuddled into our blankets, for others the night was still fresh.

Spotted hyena in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck

In a distance lions were claiming their kingdoms: “Whoooose land is this, whoooose land is this, it’s mine mine mine mine”. A pair of ring-necked doves used the moon-lit night to continue their love-making and the eerie calls of thick-knees followed us into our dreams.

The following morning was fresh and crisp and we were woken at dawn by the cheery, loud song of the collared palm thrush. Golden-winged bats settled back into their favourite sleeping positions in the trees, folding their wings over their bodies. Soon, life was back in full swing and only the tracks around the camp fire gave evidence of the existence of the creatures of the night.

Camp fire at camp in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania

© Beate Apfelbeck



Beate Apfelbeck

I first travelled to Tanzania in 2010 and was overwhelmed by the diversity of life, both nature and people, I encountered there. It is my second home now and I regularly travel to East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) for several months a year. When I am not studying birds, I enjoy village life in south-west Tanzania, or go and explore the mountains and national parks in the region. As a biologist I study how environmental variation influences the behaviour and physiology of birds. I am also a passionate photographer and love to share my experiences of the African way of life and my adventures in the field.

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