Above: At Africa Safari Selous. Courtesy Africa Safari Selous
Published: Satmag Nation newspaper 22 Feb 2020
The four days in Africa’s largest national park that has been re-named after the founding father of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in 2019 is adrenaline-filled.
The night glows as fireflies flit over the wetland at our abode, the African Safari Selous. A hyena giggles and an elephant walks past. It’s a beautiful place to be at for our inaugural entry into this historical park that was set aside as Africa’s first protected wildlife reserve in 1896 by the German colonial power.
At dawn a lioness lounges on a tree and as the sun gets hotter she climbs down leisurely, gives us a sultry stare before vanishing into the shade of the scrub.
The park is Africa’s stronghold for lions and elephants and many other creatures.
A safari guide stops to tell us of a pack of African wild dogs just seen crossing the road. That is one animal l have never seen in the wild and l’ve been to all the strongholds in Kenya for Africa’s most endangered canine.
The search is on.
Vincent Mollel, our driver guide who knows every part of the park states, “We will find them”.
With 30,000 square kilometres to search for the dog that’s also called the ‘painted wolf’, it’s found only in sub-Saharan Africa. The African wild dog numbered in hundreds of thousands until the 1900s when they were poisoned or shot on sight by herders and farmers. Today the global in the wild is between 3,000 and 5,000.
By the end of the day we’ve seen a herd of the Greater kudu, a first for me. The male is extremely handsome with huge spiralling horns.
The rain turns the black cotton soil roads impassable making it impossible to reach the banks of the Rufiji where Frederick Selous is buried marked by a simple tombstone after he was shot dead by a German sniper in 1917 during the First World War. Selous was a British explorer and famous hunter turned conservationist when he noticed huge herds of elephants hunted. He’s buried by the banks of the Rufiji.
In our search for the elusive dog we criss-cross the park the following day with more reports of them seen. In a thick grove of doum palms a family of elephants wander out of the inland lake that was once part of the Rufiji. The oxbow lakes are scattered in the park where the Rufiji once flowed. There are giarffes, kudus, impalas and yellow baboons everywhere including rich bird life. We reach a thousand year old massive baobab tree to wander into its hollow trunk.
The day’s coming to an end and we’ve been chased away by an angry hippo barrelling out of the water.
It seems the wild dog chase is turning out to be a wild goose chase.
We reach a patch of short green grass by a pool of water and unbelievably the pack of dogs is resting there, lying so low that we could have missed them.
You can only imagine how special this moment is for me. I can hardly believe that l am finally seeing a pack of African wild dogs in the wild!
The African Wild Dog
The African wild dog is a highly evolved species, living in tightly knit families and so caring that they look after their sick. One of the dogs in the pack has its fore leg missing from the knee. But he still looks well fed as he limps around his family. Wild dogs have been seen feeding their injured and nourishing them back to health.
The African wild dog is also one of the most efficient hunters on earth, more than any other predator. In a V-formation, they chase the prey. As the leader tires, the next in the formation takes lead until the prey tires. The dogs begin to devour it while it’s alive. This unsavoury hunting strategy gave the dubious reputation of ruthless killers until now when researchers have recorded their caring nature.
So now Nyerere has a special place in my heart. It’s where l saw the African wild dog.
Stay at Africa Safari Selous with spacious grounds and spreading into the park. It’s affordable luxury close to the Rufiji River. You only pay for days you enter the park.
Our route was via Dar es Salaam entering Mtemere gate and driving through the park to exit at Matembwe to continue to Morogoro. It’s a stunning sceneic road along the Uluguru mountains that are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains. The winding road climbs higher from the plains passing through a forest of palms and crystal clear streams. There are lots of affordable hotels in Morogoro.
Although Kenyans don’t need a visa to enter Tanzania you must have your passport stamped at the border and your car log book deposited for collection on return. That’s a hassle forcing you to return via the same border. Entry into the national parks is very affordable as the East African rate applies.