Southern Circuit Safari
Selous National Park
The Selous Game Reserve is the biggest game reserve in Africa, covering a vast area of about 54,600 km², putting it at 1.5 times the size of Belgium!
The game reserve receives its name in honour of Frederick Courtney Selous, an Englishman whose knowledge of the African bush has entered the stuff of legends. From 1871, Selous spent 40 years developing his intimate knowledge of the wilderness and served as the Great White Hunter for names as large as Theodore Roosevelt. He was instrumental in assisting Rhodes’ work in adding present-day Zimbabwe to the old British Empire. The reserve was named in his honour following his death in 1917. Selous’ grave remains at the site he died at within its grounds.
Selous Game Reserve exists as the central protection zone within a vastly larger ecosystem that is similarly protected by law. The overall area (some 155,000 km²) is the largest, uninhabited, untouched and singularly bodied African wilderness left.
Game counts match this gargantuan of a statistic, and individual species number in the tens to hundreds of thousands, many multiples of what any other parks have to offer. The biggest elephant concentration of any African ecosystem resides within the Selous (beating even Chobe National Park of Botswana), at 65,000…there are about twice this in buffalo, 4,000 lion and a collective of over 200,000 wildebeest, zebra, impala, hippo and various other African “essentials”.
Game Reserves strive to find a balance between being self-sustaining and allowing struggling governments to focus their attentions elsewhere, whilst simultaneously maintaining a suitable level of conservation – and large parts of the Selous have managed this. Small lodges, camps and temporary establishments set up in the wild parts of the park offer minimal disruption to the natural state of affairs, and given freedom from national park legislation, allow for walking safaris, boat trips and guided game drives not otherwise possible.
The exclusive nature of these arrangements also means that safaris in the area tend to be without the intrusion of other visitors…something definitely worth going for and a distinct advantage over some of the busier Tanzanian “Northern Circuit” trips!
Best time to visit Selous
All seasons are best, only different! The most pleasant time is during the cool season from the end of June until October. The drier it gets the more areas are burnt, and the bare burnt grounds look a bit depressing to some visitors. On the other hand the animals are not dispersed as they are during and after the rains. They have to come to the water regularly, and this is therefore the best time to observe game in bigger numbers, even in concentrations. It can already be pleasantly cool in May and June, depending on the year.
The rainy season in the Selous is normally from November to May, although there is a drier spell in January and February. This is also a beautiful time to visit as the trees and flowers are blossoming and everywhere it is green. It is only during the heavy rains, normally from the end of March to May, that the Reserve is inaccessible and most tourist camps are closed.
Ruaha National Park
Located at the heart of Tanzania, Ruaha is the 'other park' on the Southern circuit. Ruaha's relative inaccessibility means it gets far fewer tourists than the Selous and less than any comparable park in the Northern circuit. The rewards of travelling this far are a wild landscape with baobab studded hills and rocky escarpments, with superb wildlife; Ruaha safaris have reliably exciting predator concentrations, it is home to 10% of the world's lion population, contains one of four cheetah populations in East Africa and has the third largest wild dog population in the world. This is accompanied by huge elephant and buffalo herds and a cross-over of game from southern and Eastern Africa.
Tanzania's largest National Park, Ruaha is a wilder and more remote park than its southern neighbor Selous Game Reserve and ultimately has the better wildlife, albeit without boating safaris. You’d love this park! Safaris here are some of the best you will find in the country and are superb value for money. It is a wild and authentic environment that remains relatively untouched.
One of Tanzania's best-kept (and more affordable) secrets, Ruaha is a particularly good complement and contrast to the Selous, although it would be a great addition to any Tanzania safari. The lion viewing around the Mwagusi area is especially rewarding and general predator concentrations across the park are better than many of the other parks in the country. Overall it is an absolutely excellent safari destination.
Ruaha has all the predators on show, with very good lion, leopard and cheetah as well as wild dog and hyena. Buffalo and elephant herds are found throughout the park but it is the park's crazy combinations of species from east and southern Africa that excites wildlife and bird watching enthusiasts. It is not uncommon to see sable antelope, Grant's gazelle, greater kudu and lesser kudu in the same area as east Africa's common species such as zebra, defassa waterbuck, impala and giraffe. Put in the hours and travel across the park to find sable, roan, hartebeest and over 500 species of bird!
Mikumi National Park
Located between the Uluguru Mountains and the Lumango range, Mikumi is the fourth largest national park in Tanzania. The park has a wide variety of wildlife that can be easy spotted and also well acclimatized to game viewing. Most visitors come to Mikumi National Park aiming to spot the ‘Big Five’ (cheetah, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), and they are always not disappointed. Hippo pools provide close access to the mud-loving beasts, and bird-watching along the waterways is particularly rewarding. Mikumi National Park borders the Selous Game Reserve and Udzungwa National Park, and the three locations make a varied and pleasant safari circuit.
Mikumi National Park abuts the northern border of Africa’s biggest game reserve – the Selous – and is transected by the surfaced road between Dar es Salaam and Iringa. It is thus the most accessible part of a 75,000 square kilometre (47,000 square mile) tract of wilderness that stretches east almost as far as the Indian Ocean.
The open horizons and abundant wildlife of the Mkata Floodplain, the popular centre piece of Mikumi, draws frequent comparisons to the more famous Serengeti Plains.
Lions survey their grassy kingdom – and the zebra, wildebeest, impala and buffalo herds that migrate across it – from the flattened tops of termite mounds, or sometimes during the rains, from perches high in the trees. Giraffes forage in the isolated acacia stands that fringe the Mkata River, islets of shade favoured also by Mikumi’s elephants.
Criss-crossed by a good circuit of game-viewing roads, the Mkata Floodplain is perhaps the most reliable place in Tanzania for sightings of the powerful eland, the world’s largest antelope. The equally impressive greater kudu and sable antelope haunt the miombo-covered foothills of the mountains that rise from the park’s borders.
More than 400 bird species have been recorded, with such colourful common residents as the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-throated long claw and bateleur eagle joined by a host of European migrants during the rainy season. Hippos are the star attraction of the pair of pools situated 5km north of the main entrance gate, supported by an ever-changing cast of water-birds.