Selous Game Reserve

The area was first designated a protected area in 1896, in the days of German East Africa, and became a hunting reserve in 1905. The Selous was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 due to the diversity of its wildlife and undisturbed nature.

The boundary of the Selous is only some 200 kms to the south-west of Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, yet it is less known and far less visited than the great parks further away in the north of the country. The Selous, with an area of 55,000 sq kms, is the largest game conservation area in Africa (four times the size of the Serengeti, twice the size of Belgium) and also one of the wildest.

Animal populations

Fed by the Rufiji River this very diverse and well watered habitat is home to over 1,000,000 large animals, including over half of Tanzania’s elephant population.

The numbers are astonishing. The Selous has betweem 3000 and 4000 lions, probably the largest number in any game reserve in the world. Leopards outnumber the lions, but being nocturnal, are much harder to see. There are over 60,000 elephant, 108,000 buffalo and an estimated 1,300 of the worlds’ approximately 4,000 remaining rare African hunting dogs. The number of hippo is estimated at 40,000. There are around 430 species of birds.


North of the Rufiji River is mainly open wooded grassland dominated by the flat-topped ‘Terminalia spinosa’ trees, although there are dense hardwood forests in the east, open plains in the centre, and rocky arid hills and volcanic springs in the West. Rivers and dry riverbeds cross the landscape everywhere and support dense vegetation.

The Rufiji River

The Rufiji River is one of the most interesting features of the Selous, supporting vast populations of crocodile and hippo, as well as fish which attract great numbers of birds. The river is approximately 600 km (375 miles) long, with its source in southwestern Tanzania and its mouth on the Indian Ocean opposite Mafia Island. The Rufiji has the largest catchment area of any river in East Africa, draining most of South Western Tanzania’s water, and is navigable for about 100 km (60 miles) from the ocean. For the full length of its course, numerous tributaries join the Rufiji, one of which, the Great Ruaha, is a major river in its own right. At one point the Rufiji flows through the Stiegler Gorge, a canyon of 100 metres depth and 100 metres width. Beyond the gorge the river widens again and splits to form a number of lakes along the northern bank – Tagalala, Manze, Nzerakera, Siwando and Mzizima. The swampy area is home to many animals that congregate here especially when water is scarce during the dry season, in particular elephant, buffalo and, of course, hippo, in very large numbers. Further downstream the Rufiji delta contains the largest mangrove forest in the world.

Frederick Courteney Selous

Frederick Courteney Selous was born in 1851 in London and from an early age developed an obsession for the old day explorers like Livingstone. At the age of 19 Selous landed at a South African port and was determined to make a name for himself as a hunter/explorer. During his subsequent career he discovered several butterfly species and recorded valuable information regarding natural history and conservation. During the first world war, at around the age of 60, Selous joined the 25th Royal Fusiliers in which he made Captain due to his extensive bush knowledge and hunting experience on foot. He played a significant role in the war which saw the Germans expelled from the country, before being shot by a German soldier on 4th January 1917 at the age of 66 years. His grave can be visited at the base of the Beho Beho hills in the Northern Sector of the reserve.

Further World War 1 historical connection

The Battle of the Rufiji Delta was fought in German East Africa (modern Tanzania) from October 1914 to July 1915 during the First World War, between the German light cruiser SMS Königsberg, and a powerful group of British warships. The battle was a series of attempts to sink the blockaded German cruiser that eventually resulted in the destruction of Königsberg.

None of the Konigsberg is visible now, although the hull of the supply ship SS Somali can be seen in the delta.

For a full description see