TRAVEL: Adventure in a spectacular wildlife refuge

Sunday June 2 2019

 

By Jeffrey Gettleman

Few wildlife parks in Africa allow you to drift lazily along a calm stretch of water like something out of the 1951 adventure film The African Queen and take in an incredible amount of wildlife from a boat.

The Selous Game Reserve, a remote and spectacular wildlife refuge in central Tanzania, is one of them.

In 2017, I took a wonderful safari here with my family, and on one of our first afternoons, we glided along a shallow lake in an aluminum-hulled skiff. There’s something serene — and a little sneaky — about seeing animals from the water.

You’re not trailing behind them as they step out of the bushes and move toward their watering holes; you’re inside their watering hole.

Rich silence

As we floated along, maybe 91 metres from the shore, a distance close enough to observe, but hopefully not disturb, we watched baboons, zebras, giraffes and gazelles head down to the lake for a drink.

Palm trees on the water’s edge cast long pillar-like shadows. Behind them stood a wall of thick green bushes and thorn trees that wrapped around the entire lake.

A rich silence hung in the air, broken only by the occasional chitter of a kingfisher.

The Selous’ many shallow lakes dramatically stretch and shrink with the rain.

We were there just after the rains, and the lakes were swollen and full of life — especially water birds, hippopotamuses and crocodiles.

I’ve been all across Africa, and I’ve never seen so many crocodiles, sunbathing their scaly selves on the beach, slithering around in the sediment-rich, chocolate-milk-colored water and waiting until the last possible instant to slowly sink away before our skiff bumped into them.

Magnificent reserve

I wish I could bring all the people I love to the Selous. It’s a magnificent reserve, swallowing you up in endless expanses of acacia trees and emerald green swamps and tawny savannas.

Well off the beaten path and one of Africa’s last great uninhabited safari areas, the Selous delivers all the big game without the big (human) crowds that descend on the better known African parks like the Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania or the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

I found it so relaxing and rejuvenating — the perfect antidote to staring at a computer all day or constantly checking my iPhone — to just gaze across those mirror-flat lakes and smell the wild jasmine in the air and watch giraffes saunter past so delicately it looked as if their long femurs were filled with helium — that’s how lightly and soundlessly these giants float across the earth.

I wish the Selous Game Reserve was as animal-friendly as it feels, but that would be giving you the beauty of the place without the truth. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Selous also happens to be one of Africa’s largest hunting grounds.

I know, it’s hard to believe, but gunning down endangered wildlife, including lions and elephants, is perfectly legal here, as it is in several other African game reserves. Hunters love the Selous for the same reasons I do: its remoteness and abundance of game.

If hunting turns you off, please don’t let that keep you from visiting the Selous. You probably will never come across a hunter.

The Selous is enormous, nearly 20,000 square miles, bigger than Switzerland, and the designated hunting area within the reserve is separated from the game-viewing side by a big river. In two visits to the Selous that I made last year, I didn’t hear a single gunshot and never saw a single hunter.

And the African hunting business isn’t what it used to be, thanks to Cecil.

...Continues next week.

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