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Secret Selous

Anna from our Africa team went searching for the secret Selous in Tanzania and this is what her adventure entailed….

When I told friends I was off to Tanzania, the first thing many of them asked was, “are you going to see the migration?” This iconic spectacle of millions of wildebeest and zebra, spread out over plains as far as the eye can see, is what Tanzania is most famous for.  Who can forget Attenborough documentaries showing wildebeest on impossibly spindly legs jostling for position on a dusty, slippery riverbank before leaping into the churning water and struggling across, avoiding the many crocodiles?

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A roadblock in Tarangire 

While I did manage to see the migration just as it emerged onto the northern Serengeti plains, there was another area of Tanzania that captivated me entirely. The Selous is a vast game reserve, the largest in Africa, deep in the south of Tanzania and bisected by the mighty Rufiji River which loops and winds through the bottle-green bush. The amount of wildlife here is staggering – it’s thought the reserve contains over 70,000 elephant, 4,000 lion, over 100,000 buffalo, nearly 45,000 hippo along with plains game and a huge population of birds.

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Some playful Zebra

I was keen to take a boat safari on the river, and started by exploring the famous Lake Nzelakela, into which the Rufiji flows. After bouncing around in a safari vehicle, a trip on the water is a real treat – we put-putted slowly downstream, pausing every now and then to let a hippo slide out of our path or to follow a dazzling malachite kingfisher as it darted through the foliage on the bank.  In the center of the lake, a cacophony of squawks and twitters led us to Bird Island – a breeding colony of great white egrets, open-billed storks, yellow-billed storks and spoonbills all jockeying for position on the thinnest of branches, the clacking sound of bill on bill echoing across the lake as the juveniles squabbled for the best place to roost. Down below in the water, crocodiles circled lazily, ready to snatch any hapless individual that lost its footing.

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Boating down the river

Heading to the river, our guide cut the engine right back and we drifted slowly up to a family of elephant feeding happily on the bank before they waded in to bathe and drink. Buffalo peered at us from behind bushes, and sharp squeak alerted us to the presence of a colony of white-fronted bee-eaters, little emerald-green birds returning to their holes in the bank to hunt the last few insects before dusk fell. As we cruised back over the lake, the sun began to set, turning the water to molten gold.

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An elephant family in Tarangire

In the evening, after a delicious meal, we sat around the lodge camp fire hearing the slow footfalls of the hippos as they emerged from a night’s foraging. Bush babies scampered through the branches of the trees above, and low rumbles of elephant drifted across the water. Early the next morning, sitting out on our deck just as the dawn started to cast a glow across the sky, we watched quietly as the hippos returned to the water, padding softly down deeply rutted paths, the “hippo highways” which criss-cross this enormous reserve. “Sit quietly enough, and they will come really close” said our camp manager, and he was right – perched on the edge of our deck, we were close enough to reach out and touch as they lumbered past, intent on returning to the water.

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A few of the almost 45000 hippo

While perfect for boat trips, the Selous is also an excellent park in which to walk, accompanied by an armed guide and scout. We set out early, when the air was still cool and fresh, walking silently in single file and keeping our eyes open. At every turn the bush revealed yet another secret; the “go-away” call of the grey turaco suggesting a predator nearby, or the rattling call of oxpeckers hinting that buffalo may be in the vicinity. We walked with our heads down, looking for footprints in the sand – a leopard here, a hyena there, and in the center, dog tracks– these were wild dog tracks, and they were fresh. The Selous is known for its incredible population of wild dog; in fact we had seen a pack on our transfer through, resting and panting in the midday sun.

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You can’t help but take lots of pictures.

Our last game drive in the Selous brought a fantastic sighting; a high pitched shriek, emanating from a dense stand of trees, and we moved closer on foot to see what was there. A few steps closer and I found myself looking straight into the mournful, pink-lidded eyes of a Verraux’s eagle owl. Next to the adult, perched on a haphazard pile of sticks, was the chick – beetle-black eyes regarding us solemnly from a halo of white fluffy down. As we watched, he opened his beak and screeched, pleading for food. With a gentle swoosh of wings, the adult took off to hunt for its demanding young.

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Yet another stunning sunset

The Selous is a revelation – a real treat for the safari aficionado who wants to explore on foot, on the water and in the vehicle. Come here for excellent guiding, beautiful landscapes and incredible game.

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