With one of the highest concentration of animals anywhere in Africa, yet still so wild and unexplored, it is not difficult to see why the Southern Safari Circuit is often said to hold the ‘hidden treasures’ of Tanzania. In the most remote locations with accommodation facilities that are unique and intimate, Selous, Ruaha, Saadani, Mikumi and Udzungwa poses many wonderful splendors, from walking safaris to boat excursions.
Yet what is most exceptional about these reserves is that, with little known and very few visitors, the untouched parks of the South still retain their quintessential charm. Upon reaching these game reserves the splendid isolation evokes the feeling that you really are the first to see, hear and experience all that surrounds you. The belief that you truly are in the heart of Africa is undeniable.
Covering 45,000km² of wilderness, arger than the size of Denmark, with grassy plains, open woodland, mountains and forests, the Selous Game Reserve (pronounced ‘seloo’, and named after the great explorer and hunter, Frederick Courtney Selous) is Africa’s largest protected area. It’s about three times the size of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and twice the size of the Serengeti National Park. In a fitting tribute, it is also one of Tanzania’s three World Heritage Sites.
At the heart of the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania’s largest river, the Rufiji, forms a complex network of channels, lakes and swamps that create one of the most outstanding ecological systems in East Africa. This river also splits the reserve into two different sections.
In 2008 the Usangu Game reserve merged its borders with Ruaha transforming it into Tanzania’s largest national park; it now covers more than 20,000km². Despite the size of the park there are still only a handful of camps found here, which has built Ruaha’s reputation as Tanzania’s best kept game viewing secret. Ruaha’s wild and untrammeled feel is what sets it apart from other reserves, making it a popular choice for regular east African safari goers.
Ruaha is well known for its varied dramatic scenery, which includes rolling hills, large open plains, groves of skeletal baobabs and along its southern border, the Great Ruaha River, from which the park gets its name. This is by far the most dominant geographical feature of the national park and, for the wildlife it is the most important. Ruaha has a hot, dry climate which means the animals don’t tend to stray too far from dependable water sources. This makes predicating game movements far easier particularly in the dry season.
West of the bustling town of Morogoro, Mikumi National Park is small park with some lovely sceneries and offers a gentle game experience – ideal for a two-night stop and a good base for day-trips to the Udzungwa Mountains. Mikumi shares a border and its game populations with the Selous, so you’ll find plenty here, including elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, warthog, impala and buffalo. The vast Mkata plain is often a good place to search for lion, whilst the lucky will spot leopard or even wild dog.
Part of an ancient group of mountain ranges which stretch across Tanzania and Kenya, known as ‘The Eastern Arc’, the Udzungwa are the most extensive mountain range in Tanzania. They were formed at least 100 million years ago and many endemic species have evolved here, making them something of ‘an African Galapagos’. Local taboos have helped to preserve the wildlife, and now this national park protects almost 20% of the Udzungwa Mountains.
Amongst the larger attractions are 10 species of primate, three of which are endemic: the Uhehe (aka Iringa) red colobus, the Matundagalago and the Sanje crested angabey. The last of these is amongst the world’s 25 most threatened primates. With a day to explore slowly, you’ll usually see the red colobus, along with the black and white Angola colobus. Blue and vervet monkeys and yellow baboons are also common.
More than 400 species of birds live here, including many regional endemics like the Udzungwa forest partridge, which was new to science in 1991. With more scientific research, further new species are bound to be discovered. A quarter of the plants here are endemic, including some Saitpaulia species, closely related to African violets. There are also endemic amphibians, reptiles, and butterflies.