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An inside look at the Selous Game Reserve
During a recent stay at Selous Impala Camp in the Selous Game Reserve, Matt was lucky enough to spend some time with one of the region’s finest guides – Gerard Mwakila. They took some time to discuss the area’s uniqueness and the importance that tourism plays in protecting the wildlife. Here’s what Gerard had to say…
Name: Gerard Mwakila
Experience: 12 years guiding at Selous Impala Camp, and 4 years working as an anti-poaching ranger in the Selous Game Reserve
Favourite animal: I don’t have any special favourite animal. As a guide I like all animals, because they all have an important role to play in the overall ecosystem.
What makes the Selous so special?
There are a number of aspects that I believe make the Selous really special. Firstly, there are not a huge number of tourists in the area, so a lot of the time you can enjoy great sightings by yourself without being surrounded by a number of other cars. Secondly, there are more different activities to do here in the Selous than in many other national parks, so you can observe the natural environment from different perspectives, which is unique and diverse. For example, as well as game drives, you can take a boat along the Rufiji River, or go on guided walks in the bush. Thirdly, the Selous has one of the biggest wild dog populations, which is the main attraction for a lot of tourists.
You mention wild dogs... When is the best time to visit the Selous to see wild dogs?
The best time to see the wild dogs is from the end of October, after the short rains. The dogs are more active in the cooler weather and their puppies will be big enough to leave the den sites.
You must have seen some incredible sights as a guide then – what have been your most memorable sightings?
Yes! I have seen some truly incredible sights… too many to mention! But one of the most memorable was seeing four crocodiles competing with three lions over a zebra. The zebra came down to drink and was attacked by the crocs, at which point lions appeared and tried to take drag the zebra from the shallow water. In the end the crocs won!
You mentioned that there are different activities. Personally do you prefer game drives, boat safaris or walks?
I really like all the activities – the best thing is the diversity! Walking you have the chance to get very close to nature, so you can see a lot of the smaller creatures, which you can’t always see whilst driving. The boat is also great, especially in the evenings as you get to enjoy the beautiful sunsets, water birds and, if you’re lucky, elephant crossings!
In your opinion, when is the best time to visit the Selous?
Depending on when you go, you will have a very different experience – there are always pros and cons. In June, after the long rains, everything is nice and green and the landscape is amazing. From July until October is the best time for animal sightings. November through till March is still good, but this all depends on the clients and what they are interested in seeing and doing.
And is there a specific time when the birding is better in the Selous?
Birding is much better from September until the end of February. After the end of the rains there are a lot more insects around, so even migratory birds return to the area to feast on the abundance of food that’s there.
Elephant populations have decreased dramatically in the Selous recently. How important are elephants to the ecosystem, and what can we do to protect them?
Elephants play a major and very important role here in the Selous ecosystem. They are considered a mega-herbivore and are mixed feeders; they need to eat large amounts of vegetation – up to 200kg per day! They also trample a lot of vegetation – pulling down large trees and bushes. This helps regulate the vegetation levels in the area. You could say they are natural landscapers and gardeners! They also help in the dispersal of seeds from plants and trees by eating the fruits. The biggest solution to reduce the poaching of elephants is to ban the ivory trade completely, as well as educating people around the world about the significance of the elephants and the role they play.
And is there a role that tourists can play in protecting and preserving elephants along with the rest of the flora and fauna in the Selous?
Tourists are very important in the protection of the environment of the Selous. The tourism industry brings in a large amount of income into the country in general, and this goes back into the reserves and national parks – paying rangers who protect the animals and maintaining park boundaries, amongst other things. Tourists also act as a messaging system, carrying information and experiences that they have learned back to their own countries and sharing this with friends and family. This all helps to spread the word on environmental issues and the positive work of conservationists.
The Selous is not as well-known as Northern Tanzania. Why do you think tourists should come here over the Northern Circuit?
The Selous is one of the most amazingly beautiful game reserves on our planet; it offers a truly unique and unusual safari experience. Visitors get the chance to enjoy lots of different activities and to experience great sightings without a large number of other cars and tourists joining them. In my opinion, the Selous offers the best safari experience around!
What do you hope for the future of the Selous?
I hope that there will be a plan to change the game reserve to a conservation area like Ngorongoro Crater and other national parks. This would mean the animals were safer, because hunting would no longer be allowed and it would be only a photographic tourist destination. I also hope that poaching will be eliminated from the Selous entirely.
You clearly have a huge passion for the Selous. Can you sum up the Selous in three words?
Spectacular, unique, beautiful.
And if you could go anywhere else in Tanzania that you haven’t been to yet, where would you go? Are there any hidden places in Tanzania that you can let us in on?
I would go to Northern Tanzania to see the Hadzabe bushmen, who are among the last hunter-gatherers in the world. As for hidden places, you should check out Mkomazi National Park, I have never been there but I’ve heard about it from many guides. People say there is a good chance of seeing rhino and some antelopes here that can't be found in other areas of Tanzania. There is also a good chance of seeing wild dogs there too, and it’s one of the lesser visited national parks.
A huge amount of the money spent by tourists in the Selous goes back into the reserve – paying rangers who protect the animals and maintaining reserve boundaries, amongst other things.
If you want to head to the Selous to see the wonderful wildlife first hand, we can help organise your perfect trip. Give us a call on 020 3141 2810 to get the ball rolling on your trip.