It is the world’s biggest wildlife park, the Selous Game Reserve. It is no wonder that the game reserve is still well known to older people in the area as Grandmother’s Field.
Three years after successful crushing of the Maji Maji uprising in 1907 between the locals and German forces in the then Deutche Ost Africa, now Tanzania, and Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, gave his wife a wedding anniversary present.
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Undoubtedly, the present wildlife park which the German leader gave his wife is one of the biggest of its kind in the annals of romance.
The Selous Game Reserve, rich and precious inheritance to mankind, teems with unrivaled wildlife, from the tiniest midge to the oldest elephant patriarch. However, this reserve, boasts of the largest concentration of elephants in the world – more than 110,000 herds, and it is a microcosm of history of this part of the world.
Covering over 50,000 square kilometers, the Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest protected wildlife reserves in the world and one of Africa’s last great wilderness areas.
Other than large numbers of elephants, the Selous Game Reserve, which is located in southern Tanzania, is home to black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, and crocodiles, and is relatively undisturbed by humans. The reserve is inhabited by Africa’s biggest crocodiles, hippos, wild dogs, and buffaloes.
Traversing through its panoramic plains with golden grass, its bush, riverine marshes, its seemingly boundless lakes, and its mighty coffee-brown Rufiji River, one is bound to come across groves of mango trees.
These mango trees are mementoes of a sad 18th and 19th century tragedy which befell the sons and daughters of this land, The Arab Slave Trade.
Eric Robins wrote in his book, “Secret Eden: Africa’s Enchanted Wilderness,” that mango trees in the Selous Game Reserve have grown up from the stones of the sweet blush-skinned fruit dropped by groups of black men, women, and children who were victims of the nineteenth century slave trade.
The helpless captives, squatting in wooden halters, ate mangoes to ward off starvation on their way from the interior to the Indian Ocean before arbitrarily sold to Arab traders in Zanzibar.
Eric Robins adds through his book that, “The mango trees of the Selous are constant reminders of the ghastly era when merchants traded in human flesh.”
The Selous Game Reserve has witnessed dramatic historical events resulted from human misery. Prior to the coming of Arabs and Europeans in this part of Africa, economic and political developments in Tanzania after independence from Britain 55 years ago, all of this changed the image of this wildlife paradise into a center of permanent conflicts.
The river forms a delta – the Rufiji Delta – the largest of its kind in East Africa. This delta was to witness the British forces battle against German forces in a war of wits and guts. The reserve became a battle ground between British and German forces in the First World War and which the delta was an ideal and appropriate retreat for German forces.
The nature of the delta itself could be the major cause for its being a battle ground. Once, the delta was an ideal hiding place for the dhows of Arab slave traders, making it an appropriate hide-out for a German man-of-war, the SMS Konigsberg.
Captain Alan Villiers (1903-1982) a sailor, writer, and photojournalist who roamed the world with an Arab dhow, using only the wind to sail, said: “If in this world there is a worse place than the Rufiji delta, I hope I may never find it. The whole delta is gloomy, morose, and depressing almost beyond endurance.”
In the hinterland of this reserve, Captain Courteney Frederick Selous, one of the greatest white hunters, hunted down hundreds of elephants in its wilderness which was later named after him.
Frederick Selous was gunned down by a German sniper on January 4,1917, and his body was laid to rest at the exact spot where the German bullets were sprayed into his body at Beho Beho site.
Five years after the death of Captain Selous, in 1922, the British government established the Selous Game Reserve we know today.
The British consolidated the Mahenge and Muhoro reserves into one big reserve – the Selous Game Reserve.
The Selous offers boat safaris along the Rufiji River, making it a unique destination in Africa where boat safaris are possible for a long distance. Game drives are very attractive along the edges of the small lakes and rivers within its boundaries. Evening game drives provide unforgettable experience as the sun goes down over the lakes.
The adventure-seeking traveler can also explore this wilderness on foot, a privilege which is possible only in very few parks and reserves in Africa.
Even more adventurous are the trekking safaris which last for several days. A small group of trekkers start from the base camp with guides and game scouts.
The Selous Game Reserve can be reached easily by air, road, and rail through the Tanzania Zambia Railway line. It takes up to 8 hours to drive from Tanzania’s capital city of Dar es Salaam.
There are 6 special tourist camps – most permanent and established inside the reserve with a number of camp sites marked for campers.
Despite the richness of its flora and fauna, the Selous Game Reserve had remained unknown to most people, especially tourists over the years, except to a few hundred big game hunters, ecologists, botanists, geologists, and, of course, the generations from soldiers who fought in the First World War over its terrain.
However, recently, a number of tourist camps have sprouted in the northern part of the reserve to cater to the growing number of tourists who flock there to experience this Garden of Eden.
High-class tourist lodges have been developed in the northern zone of the Selous Game Reserve. Serena Mivumo River Lodge and Selous Serena Camp have been established for an ultimate wilderness retreat.
These days, amid this enchanting and virgin wildlife area, one can sit around a Baobab tree and order a gin or tonic. The Selous Game Reserve is home to giant baobab trees, found scattered all over the reserve’s expansive plains.
Airstrips have been developed for those tourists who want a quick drop-in, making the Selous Game Reserve the tourist and animal kingdom area where the remaining animals from Noah’s Ark could be found. It is the last animal sanctuary in the world where God’s secrets of creation could easily be observed.
Massive poaching of wildlife, uranium mining, a hydro-electric power program, and the planned Kidunda Water Dam are the industrial and economic activities haunting the history of the Selous Game Reserve.
Zealous uranium mining and power generation inside the reserve are the current enemies which are making this legendary wildlife park exist without peace, as a result of lust for money.
Human misery has been observed there since the Arab slave trade era, when its elephants were slaughtered in masses for their tusks. The killing of elephants and other animal species are the order of the day inside this reserve.
The Selous Game Reserve has been listed as one of the worst elephant “Killing Fields” in Africa by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
But, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), also known as the World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada, and other environmental conservation organizations have come up with fists, saying industrial activities and uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve was less beneficial compared to damages caused through mining of radioactive minerals.
The WWF Tanzania Office said uranium mining and other industrial projects proposed by multinational enterprises in the reserve would lead to irreparable damage, not only to the environment in terms of its ecosystem, but also to Tanzania’s precious tourism industry.
Professor Hussein Sossovele, a senior environmental researcher in Tanzania, said uranium mining within the Selous Game Reserve could lead to dangerous consequences to the park.
Comparably, uranium mining could generate less than US$5 million per year, while tourism gains are US$6 million from tourists visiting the park each year.