Covering 45,000km of wilderness, with grassy plains, open woodland, mountains and forests, the Selous Game Reserve and named after the great explorer and hunter, Frederick Courtney Selous is Africa's largest game reserve. 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's also one of Tanzania's three World Heritage Sites.
The Selous Game Reserve is an ecosystem (7,400,000 ha) and includes Mikumi National Park and Kilombero Game Controlled Area. A large area of the reserve is drained by the Rufiji River and tributaries that include the Luwegu, Kilombero, Great Ruaha, Luhombero and Mbarangardu. The Rufiji is formed by the Luwegu and Kilombero which join at Shughuli Falls. Soils are relatively poor and infertile.
While there are many habitat types, the deciduous miombo woodland is dominant, providing the world's best example of this vegetation type; as this is thought to be maintained by fire it may be the result of human activities in the past.
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 animal are known and in 1986 approximately 750,000 large animals of 57 species were recorded. The greatest concentrations are in the north and north-east, also in the inner south. In 1994, in the reserve and surrounding buffer area, there were 52,000 of the endangered African elephant, 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 totalled 31,735 in 1994 and are found throughout the area. The critically endangered black rhinoceros, which numbered 3,000 in 1981, are now estimated as between 100 and 400 in several small scattered populations.
The area is so large that it can absorb all but the most severe pressures on its resources. There are plans to harness the flood waters of the Rufiji River, with a dam to be constructed at Stieqler's Gorge; but this would affect only relatively small part of the reserve and should not be a matter of Selous concern unless the reservoir draws in large numbers of settlers. Because of difficulties of transportation, the interior of Selous is seldom patrolled, so the estimated numbers of species may be far in excess of the current true situation if poaching has been as serious a problem as elsewhere in East Africa. Much of the infrastructure of the site (roads, guardposts, water systems, etc.) has deteriorated in recent years due to lack of sufficient funding.