Selous Game Reserve (7°20' to 10°30'S, 36°00' to38°40'E) is a World Heritage Site that contains a third of the wildlife estate of Tanzania. Large numbers of elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, hippopotamuses, ungulates and crocodiles live in this immense sanctuary, which measures almost 50,000 square kilometers (km2) and is relatively undisturbed by human impacts. The park has a wide variety of vegetation zones, ranging from forests and dense thickets to open wooded grasslands and riverine swamps.
In central south-eastern Tanzania: 7°20' to 10°30'S, and 36°00' to38°40'E.
Date and History of Establishment
- 1905-12: Four reserves in the region were established by the German colonial administration (250,000 hectares (ha));
- 1922: The existing reserves were combined to form the Selous Game Sanctuary, named for the hunter Captain Frederic Selous;
- 1936-47: Boundaries were several times enlarged to include elephant migration routes and to relocate villagers;
- 1964: Mikumi National Park (323,000 ha) and Kilombero Game Controlled Area (530,000 ha) established;
- 1974: The Reserve was legally established under the Wildlife Conservation Act as amended by the Wildlife Conservation (Amendment) Act of 1978;
- 1994: Udzungwa Mountains National Park (200,000 ha) established.
4,480,000 hectares (ha).
Government, in Coast, Morogoro, Lindi, Pwani and Ruvuma regions. Administered by the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
From 80 meters (m) in the north-east to 1,300 m in the south-west (Mbarika Mountains).
Selous is the largest Game Reserve in Africa and is part of the Selous ecosystem of over 9,000,000 ha in area. This includes the adjacent Mikumi National Park and Kilombero Game Controlled Area to the west, the nearby Udzungwa Mountains National Park to the northwest and a buffer zone of some 3,500,000 ha. A large area of the reserve is drained by the Rufiji River which with its tributary the Ruaha drains most of south-central Tanzania and is formed where the Kilombero and Luwegu rivers join above the Shughuli Falls. Tributaries include the Luhombero, Mbarangandu and Njenji which are the main permanent streams. Below the Rufiji-Ruaha confluence is a stretch of lakes and swamps. The southeast is drained by the Matandu river, the northern border by the Mgeta. The center of the Reserve is a flat to rolling landscape with alluvial valleys and protruding hills largely underlain by the Karoo sandstone and covered by thickets and closed woodland; the south is hilly, rugged and forested, the southwestern Mbarika Mountains reaching 1,300 m, the west is mountainous and forested with intervening wet lowlands, the east and north are treed grassland on alluvial hardpan, in places seasonally flooded when the Rufiji can rise 5 m. The soils of the Rufiji basin are friable, acidic and nutrient-poor, unsuited to agriculture and in the south, alkaline sands over hardpan. Erosion is accentuated by the frequent fires and heavy November rains which result in rivers of sand.
The Reserve has a dry sub-humid climate influenced by the prevailing southeasterly winds which bring rainfall to the Eastern arc mountains along its western border. The annual rainfall ranges from 750 millimeters (mm) in the east to 1,300 mm in the west, falling mainly between mid-November and mid-May. The six months of winter are very dry. The average annual range of maximum and minimum temperatures at Kingupira Research Station on the hotter eastern edge is between 17.9°C and 37.3°C but for the whole Reserve range from 13°C to 41°C, depending on elevation.
The Reserve is between the Somalia-Maasai and Zambezian regional centers of endemism, mostly within the latter. Two main vegetation types dominate the reserve: the sector north of the Ruaha-Rufiji rivers (17%) is mainly open wooded grassland underlain by poorly drained alkaline sandy clay dominated by the flat-topped tagalala Terminalia spinosa and dotted with doum palm Hyphaene thebaica, with swamps along the rivers covered by tracts of borassus palm woodland Borassus aethiopium. The remainder of the Reserve (about 75%) is deciduous miombo woodland which provides the chief elephant habitat and much of which is maintained by fire. Its dominant species are Brachystegia spiciformis and muyombo B. boehmii with Julbernardia globiflora, bloodwood Pterocarpus angolensis, blackwood Dalbergia melanoxylon and Isoberlinia spp. with a shrub layer of Diplorhyncus condylocarpus and species of leadwood Combretum. This occurs as closed woodland and dense thickets in the center and south, in open woodland in the west, and in the east in scattered tree grassland. But there is a great diversity of other vegetation: areas of rocky acacia-clad hills, gallery and groundwater forests characterized by the wild date palm Pheonix reclinata, seasonally flooded sand rivers, swamps and lowland rain forest. 2,149 plant species have been recorded, but it is thought that even more might be found in the remote forests of the south.
The Reserve has a higher density and species diversity than any other miombo woodland area, despite long winter drought and poor soils, owing to its size, the diversity of its habitats, the availability of food and water and the lack of settlements. Animal populations in the surrounding areas are often as high, especially in the dry season and contain many of the same species. Some 400 species of animals are known and in 1986 approximately 750,000 large animals of 57 species were recorded. The greatest concentrations are in the north and northeast, also in the inner south. In 1994, in the Reserve and surrounding buffer area, there were 52,000 elephants Loxodonta africana (EN), 50% of the country's total, which is growing again after years of decline due to ivory poaching: 109,000 in 1980 had dwindled to 31,000 by 1989. Within the Reserve they totaled 31,735 in 1994 and are found throughout the area. Black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis (CR) which numbered 3,000 in 1981 are now estimated to number between 100 and 400 in several small scattered populations.
Several animal populations are large (the figures are quoted from a 1994 aerial survey by TWCM): buffalo Syncerus caffer (138,000), blue and nyasa or whitebearded wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus and C. albojubatus, (46,500), impala Aepyceros melampus (29,500), Burchell's zebra Equus burchelli (21,500), Lichtenstein's hartebeest Signocerus lichtensteini (20,000), kongoni Alcelaphus buselaphus cokei (11,700) and common waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus (10,000). Grassland species north of the Rufiji include giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis (2,200), blue wildebeest, buffalo, impala, eland Taurotragus oryx, reedbuck Redunca arundinum, warthog Phacochoerus aethiopicus, lion Panthera leo (VU,3-4,000) and an occasional Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus (VU). Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius. (27,000) and crocodile Crocodylus niloticus and are abundant. Greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros, sable antelope Hippotragus niger, (1,600) with eland, impala, nyasa wildebeest and hartebeest are typical of the miombo woodland. Other relatively widespread mammals include yellow baboon Papio cynocephalus, leopard Panthera pardus, spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta, the largest population of wild dog Lycaon pictus (EN,~1,300) in Africa. There are also sidestriped jackal Canis adustus, puku Kobus vardoni, klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus, and red and blue duikers Cephalophus natalensis and C. monticola. Rarer species include Sanje crested mangabey Cercocebus galeritis sanjei, Uhehe red colobus Procolobus gordonorum (VU), black and white colobus monkey Colobus abyssinicus, topi Danaliscus lunatus and Sharpe's greysbok Raphicerus sharpei.
The birdlife is rich: 350 species of birds are recorded. These include knob-billed duck Sarkidiornis melanotos, southern ground hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri and bateleur eagle Terathopius ecaudatus, Stierling's woodpecker Dendrocopus stierlingi, whiteheaded lapwing Vanellus albiceps, the endemic Udzungwa forest partridge Xenoperdix udzungwensis (VU) and rufous-winged sunbird Nectarinus rufipennis (VU). The adjacent Mikumi lowlands and mountains and Kilombero wetlands and the nearby Udzungwa Mountains are rich in species which like the Kilombero weaver Ploceus burnieri (VU) might stray into the Reserve. The globally threatened wattled crane Grus carunculatus (VU), corncrake Crex crex (VU), and lesser kestrel Falco naumanni (VU) occur. Reptiles and amphibians are numerous but little studied.
The Reserve bisects the traditional lands of the Wangindo tribe of hunter-gatherers though the infertile land was always thinly settled except in the east. The area was also on the main slave-trading route to the port of Kilwa, was invaded by the Wangoni tribe, and fought over in both the 1906 colonial rebellion and World War I.
Local Human Population
During the establishment of the reserve, scattered settlements within the boundaries were relocated to adjacent areas now mostly within the buffer zone, first to avoid epidemics of sleeping sickness then following the Tanzanian government policy of villagization. The high level of tsetse fly infestation in the area effectively prevented pastoralism, thus protecting the wildlife but making bushmeat an important part of the local diet. Loss of the use of the Reserve lands has trapped many in poverty, and the Game Scouts are much resented by the hunters who traditionally cropped the game which was central to their lives. However much of the land is marginal for farming, so the density of the surrounding population is generally low except on the north, northwest and central western boundaries.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
The Reserve is remote and not easily accessible except by air though access by the Tazara railway on the north-west edge is now possible. From March to May floods may make access difficult. There were around 3500 visitors to the park in 1997 and 5,000 in 2000. A tourist area has been set aside on the species-rich north bank of the Rufiji River where the widest diversity of the Reserve’s animals exists. There are five tented camps (one a luxury camp) and a lodge, hunting is prohibited and game viewing, river safaris and photo-tourism encouraged. In accordance with the Wildlife Conservation Act, tourist hunting is permitted in Tanzania and provides much income for the Reserve. In 1992 49 elephant-shooting licenses were issued for use within the Reserve: 19 elephant bulls were shot and a further 5 were poached.
Scientific Research and Facilities
Studies mainly concern ecological and wildlife management problems in the miombo woodlands but research is hampered by a shortage of equipment and vehicles. Aerial censuses to estimate the number and distribution of mammal species were carried out in 1976, 1980, 1986, 1989 and 1994. The Miombo Research Station at Kingupira in the east, within easy reach of Dar-es-Salaam, is near four major habitat types though cut off in the wet season. It had good facilities but has not been used for some years. However there is an ecological monitoring unit at the Reserve’s headquarters.
The Reserve is immense and has a wide variety of relatively undisturbed vegetation types, ranging from dense thickets to open grasslands which support large populations of elephants, giraffes, wild dogs, ungulates, hippopotamuses and crocodiles.
The Game Reserve was established to preserve its elephants, black rhinoceros and diversity of wildlife which remain its main economic resource, and with five other game reserves was designated a National Project in 1980, giving it enhanced status as a special protection area. It is controlled by the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment with a Chief Warden headquartered at Matambwe in the north. As the area's residents were evacuated when the reserve was established Selous has remained relatively intact. No largescale forest exploitation has taken place, mineral exploration has as yet failed to find any valuable deposits and the Stiegler's Gorge dam proposed for the Rufiji River in 1980 was not found to be economic. The reserve is divided into seven sectors for decentralized administrative control, each under a Sector Manager, primarily for allocating hunting concessions in 42 of the 45 management blocks. Zones envisaged by Stephenson in 1990 and later adopted were: a Strict Nature Reserve in the Mbarika Moutains of the southwest, a Tourist area and a Rhino Sanctuary on the Rufiji river, safari hunting over the whole area south of the Rufiji and an approximately 15 km wide buffer zone round most of the Reserve.
The destruction of animals during the 1970s and 1980s was finally ended by the government's Operation Uhai in 1989 and elephant poaching virtually halted by 1991. Since then the animal populations of the Reserve have generally increased and regular anti-poaching patrols are sent out, though hampered by lack of equipment. A WWF project which ran between 1984 and 1999, provided ranger equipment, training, and transport, monitored key wildlife species, produced an elephant management plan, and strengthened anti-poaching operations. In 1988 the joint Tanzanian-German government Selous Conservation Programme (SCP) was started and a comprehensive set of management recommendations made by Stephenson in 1990 for the state Wildlife Division became the basis for a management plan drawn up in 1995 by the SCP. Much Reserve infrastructure has already been improved under its direction. The plan aimed to secure better definition of boundaries, imposition of controls over poaching, logging and wildfires, and sustainable use of the wild resources. Most useful of all, to reduce the levels of poaching within the Reserve, and to create a buffer zone between it and the villages, communal wildlife management schemes were established in wildlife management areas adjacent to 41 villages as part of a conservation program. By these, villagers agree to allow wildlife onto part of their lands in return for a sustainable hunting quota. These have been accompanied by self-help and rural development schemes to improve village services. As part of this program, the Reserve authorities retain 50% of the money made from tourist hunting to finance management.
Poaching remains the main problem although far less destructive than in the 1980s when the absence of funding left the Reserve undefended. There are other lesser threats, such as destruction of the riverine forests by uncontrolled fires and illegal logging, both of which may be on the increase. Oil exploration roads for the Shell Exploration Company were built in 1981-5 over three quarters of the reserve and caused much erosion. They improved access into the area and set up maintenance settlements within it but the related uncontrolled poaching of the early 1980s reduced the Selous elephant population by 70% and sharply reduced the population of several other species. Because of transportation difficulties, the interior of the Reserve is insufficiently patrolled, and there is a severe lack of vehicles, camping gear and radios. But highways proposed across the Reserve are also a potential threat. The immediate and long-term threats to wildlife still come from unsustainable and illegal commercial poaching for meat and trophies. However, local antagonism will only lessen if the Reserve is seen to benefit local people. The communal wildlife management schemes started under the SCP have started to reduce conflicts between wildlife and rural communities over such recurring problems as crop destruction, illegal fishing or honey poaching. But up-to-date scientific support to management on the impacts of fire and hunting are still needed.
There is a Chief Warden, with seven sector managers and around 380 support staff. But this force remains understaffed and underpaid.
In 1985 the reserve earned approximately US$2,000,000 from licensed game hunting, but only some 10% of this was returned for recurrent and capital budget expenditure. Since 1992 50% of the foreign exchange earnings from licensed tourist game hunting may be retained by the park for management purposes. To this is added US$ 500,000 in salaries and other support from the government and a further US$200,000 per year from photosafaris. To 1993, US$6,000,000 had been granted by the German government through GTZ, supplemented by the WWF, AWF and the Frankfurt Zoological Society. By 1997 the reserve annually earned some US$2,300,000, providing 24% of Tanzania’s revenue from tourism, an amount which might be increased with improved management and funding.
IUCN Management Category
- IV (Habitat/Species Management Area)
- Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, iv; inscribed in 1982
- Baldus, R. & Kaggi, D. (1989). Village Participation in Wildlife Management. Introducing Communal Wildlife Management in the Mgeta River Buffer Zone North of the Selous Game Reserve. Selous Conservation Programme Discussion Paper No.4. Selous Game Reserve / Wildlife Division and GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit, German Agency for Technical Assistance). 32 pp.
- Baldus, R.D., Krischke, H., Lyamuya, V., Ndunguru, I.F. (1994) People and wildlife experiences from Tanzania. SCP Discussion Paper No. 16. Selous Game Reserve/ Wildlife Division Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit/GZT. 27pp.
- Barnes, R., Craig G., Dublin, H., Overton, G., Simons, W. & Thouless, C. (1998). African Elephant Database 1998. IUCN Species Survival Commission Paper No.22. IUCN. Gland. ISBN: 2831704928.
- BirdLife International. (2000). Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International. Barcelona & Cambridge, UK. ISBN: 0946888396.
- Borner, M. (1981). Selous Census. WWF/IUCN/FZS Report.
- Bureau of Reclamation, US Dept. of Interior. (1967). Rufiji Basin: Land and Water Resource Development Plans and Potentials. Washington.
- Campbell, K.L.I. (1991). Elephant numbers in Tanzania Tanzanian Wildlife Conservation Monitoring/Frankfurt Zoological Society, 5 pp.
- Campbell, B.,Frost, P. & Byron, N. (1996). Miombo woodlands and their use: overview and key issues, in Campbell, B., (ed.) The Miombo in Transition: Woodlands and Welfare in Africa. Centre for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Malaysia. ISBN: 9798764072.
- Douglas-Hamilton I. (1986). 1986 Selous Survey.
- East, R. (1998). African Antelope Database 1998. IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group. IUCN. Gland. ISBN: 2831704774.
- Frost. P. (1996). The ecology of Miombo woodlands. B. Campbell, editor. The Miombo in Transition: Woodlands and Welfare in Africa. CFIOR, Bogor. ISBN: 9798764072.
- GTZ/Selous Conservation Programme,(1995). Selous Game Reserve General Management Plan. Dar es Salaam.
- Halsfund-Norplan (1979). Stiegler's Gorge Power and Flood Control Development: Preliminary Project Report 1. For the Rufiji Basin Development Authority. Oslo.
- IUCN/WWF Project 1930. Tanzania, Anti-poaching Equipment for Game Reserves.
- IUCN/WWF Project 3018. Tanzania, Rhino anti-poaching, NE Selous Game Reserve.
- IUCN/WWF Project 3173. Tanzania, General support for the Selous Game Reserve.
- Kingdon, J. (1997). The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, San Diego. ISBN: 0713665130.
- Lamprey, R. (1995) The management of sport hunting in Tanzania Swara 18(2):10-15.
- Leader-Williams, N., Kayera, J. & Overton, G., (eds.) (1996) Community-based conservation in Tanzania. IUCN Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. ix + 266pp. ISBN: 283170314X.
- Makumbule, G. (n.d.). The Woody Vegetation of the Proposed Steigler's Gorge Reservoir, SE Tanzania. MSc Thesis, University of Dar-es-Salaam.
- Matthiessen, P. (1981). Sand Rivers. The Viking Press, New York. ISBN: 0553013742.
- Matzke, G. (1976). The Development of Selous Game Reserve. Tanzania Notes and Records 79 and 80: 37-48.
- Matzke, G. (1977). Wildlife in Tanzania settlement policy: The case of the Selous. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, New York.
- Newmark, D.,Leonard, N., Sariko, H., Deo-Gratias, M. (1993) Conservation attitudes of local people living adjacent to five protected areas in Tanzania. Biological Conservation ,63 (2):177-183.
- Pateman, R. (1987). The secrets of the Selous. Swara 10 (3): 20-21.
- Rodgers, W. (1980). The Values of the Selous Game Reserve and the Proposed Stiegler Gorge Dam. Rubada Research Paper 26, University of Dar-es-Salaam.
- Rodgers, W. (1979). The Ecology of Large Herbivores in the Miombo Woodlands of South East Tanzania. Vols 1 & 2. University of Nairobi.
- Rodgers, W. (1996). The miombo woodlands in McClanahan T. & Young, T. (eds) East African Ecosystems and their Management. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York. Pp.299-326. ISBN: 0195108175.
- Rodgers, W.A. and Ludanga, R.I. (1973). The vegetation of the Eastern Selous Game Reserve. Mimeo report. 70 pp.
- Rodgers, W., Salehe, J. & Howard, G. (1996). The biodiversity of miombo woodlands, in Campbell, B., (ed.) The Miombo in Transition: Woodlands and Welfare in Africa. CIFOR, Bogor, Malaysia. ISBN: 9798764072.
- Said, M., Chunge, R., Craig, G., Thouless, C., Barnes, R. & Dublin, H. (1995) African Elephant Database, 1995. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 225 pp. ISBN: 283170295X.
- Sitwell, N. (1981). Selous Game Reserve. Wildlife.
- Stephenson, J. (1987). Rehabilitation of the Selous Game Reserve.Final Report. The Wildlife Division, Ministry of Natural Resource and Tourism. 165 pp.
- Stephenson, J. (1990). A Conservation Policy and Management Plan for the Selous National Game Reserve. For the Selous Conservation Programme & the Wildlife Division, Ministry of Natural Resource & Tourism. 110 pp.
- Tanzania Wildlife Conservation Monitoring (TWCM) (1995). Aerial Survey of the Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi National Park and Surrounding Areas. Dry Season 1994. Frankfurt Zoological Society, Arusha.
- Vollesen, K. (1980). Annotated checklist of the vascular plants of the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania. Opera Botanica 59.
- Wildlife Division / GTZ (9197). Selous Conservation Programme Project Brief. 4pp.
- WWF (1996) 1996 List of Projects vol. 5 part 1. WWF International.
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.