A popular Southern safari choice, the Selous Game Reserve (pronounced “selou”) is Africa’s largest and oldest game reserve. The riverine green landscape of Selous boasts dense bush, lakes, and rivers that sustain huge quantities of wildlife that can be explored via some of the best boating and guided walks of any of the Tanzania safaris. The vast majority, about 90%, of the Selous Reserve, is used for trophy hunting making the safari area relatively small but still offering some of the best predatory sightings.
Just a short distance away, but for another safari trip, Ruaha National Park on the other hand shows off a dry red soil across ancient plains where your safari will see vast buffalo herds contend with prides of lions.
The Selous Game Reserve, however, is one of the largest faunal reserves of the world. It was named after Englishman Sir Frederick Selous, a famous big game hunter and early conservationist. The Selous was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 due to the diversity of its wildlife and undisturbed nature. The reserve covers a total area of 54,600 km2 (21,100 sq mi) and has additional buffer zones. Within the reserve no permanent human habitation or permanent structures are permitted. Some of the typical animals of the savanna such as elephants, hippos, Masai lions, East African wild dogs, cheetahs, Cape buffaloes, Masai giraffes and crocodiles can be found in Selous in larger numbers than in any other African game reserve or national park.
The part of Selous, north of the Rufiji River, open to the public, is particularly scenic. The main wildlife viewing circuit follows a string of 5 lakes connected to each other and the Rufiji River by small streams. The Rufiji is one of Africa’s great rivers with palm fringed channels and swampy islets.
In fact, the Rufiji River has been designated a photographic zone and is a popular tourist destination. There are several high end lodges and camps mainly situated along the river and lake systems in this area. Rather difficult road access means most visitors arrive by small aircraft from Dar es Salaam, though train access is also possible.
Another Selous sight to behold is the Stiegler Gorge, a canyon100 meters deep and wide. The generic diverse Selous habitats include grassland, typical Acacia savanna, wetlands and extensive Miombo woodlands. Although total wildlife populations are high, the reserve is large and densities of animals are lower than in the more regularly visited northern tourist circuit of Tanzania.
In 1976, the Selous Game Reserve contained about 109,000 elephants, then the largest in the world. By 2013, the numbers had dropped to about 13,000 – including a 66% drop from 2009 to 2013. Sources blame corrupt politicians, officials and businessmen who help poachers, and the interruption of uranium mining in the region.
One of the best places in East Africa to encounter wild dogs
Guided walks and boat safaris available.
Lions are easily found at the lake shores.
Big game hunting by special license.
Exceptional Bird watching
Relatively short distance and easily accessible from Dar es Salaam: ideal for anyone staying in Kilwa, Mafia or Dar.
- Remoteness 85% 85%
- Family 70% 70%
- Animal Viewing 90% 90%
- Landscape 80% 80%
- Flora 90% 90%
- Birding 85% 85%
Selous Game Reserve Flora & Fauna
The famed Rufiji River is teeming with hippos and crocodiles and the birdlife is fantastic. Lion sightings are very common as the opportunistic creatures tend to laze around the lakes waiting for animals coming to drink. One of the main attractions of the park is its large population of wild dogs.
Selous Game Reserve offers very good game viewing, in general. The string of lakes along the main circuit is a good place to see unusually large groups of giraffe alongside other ungulates like buffalo, waterbuck, impala and zebra. Opportunistic, hungry lions are often found near these waterholes, and seeing a kill here isn’t unusual.
Wild dogs are one of the main attractions in the Selous Game Reserve. The park is also home to several unusual antelope species like sable and puku. Black rhino is rare but can sometimes be tracked down in some remote areas.
More than 440 bird species have been recorded in the Selous. On the lakes you’ll 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 eagle, palmnut vulture, ibises and palm swifts nest in the borassus palms. Other waterbirds found in the Selous include: yellow-billed stork, 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, a regular winter visitor, while the elusive Pel’s fishing owl often emerges at dusk to hawk above the water.
The dry season from June to October is the best time for game viewing in the park. Wildlife is easier to spot because vegetation is thinner and animals gather around reliable water resources. Roads become impassable after heavy rain and most camps close towards the end of the wet season, in April, and reopen late May or the beginning of June. The best time to see wild dogs at Selous Game Reserve is during their denning season from June to August.
Selous Game Reserve Location & Map
Forming part of a unique eco-system bordering the Udzungwa mountains and Mikumi National Park, Selous Game Reserve just East of Dar es Salaam is very accessible by surfaced road from the big city but this is a bumpy day long ride. Most safaris to Selous usually embark from Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) in Dar es Salaam via road, or charter flight to the Selous air strip. In fact, Dar is a great place to relax before and after your trip to the Selous Game Reserve. Chartered flights can also be arranged from Arusha and other regional airports such as Ruaha to Selous’ airstrip. A flight takes about 45 minutes from Dar, and about 90 minutes from Ruaha.
The best time of year for getting to the Selous Game Reserve is between late June and October during dry season when wildlife is easier to spot since animals gather at water resources and vegetation is thinner. Many lodges actually close from March through May.
Total Land Area
44,800 sq km About the same size as Switzerland
Elevation above sea level
About 146 stacked giraffes
Nearest Major City & Airport
About 235 km North
When To Visit Selous Game Reserve
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec