The first thing you notice is the deafening quiet, as if a blanket had been placed upon the land and every sound is absorbed by the vastness of the terrain. My senses are piqued and I intuitively know that my presence in this vast wilderness is inconsequential - I have entered a sacred space.
Dar es Salaam, a major city and commercial port on Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast, grew from a fishing village. The open-air Village Museum has re-created the traditional homes of local and other Tanzanian tribes and hosts tribal dancing. It’s part of the National Museum, which offers Tanzanian history exhibits, including the fossils of human ancestors found by anthropologist Louis Leakey.
The landscape before me is exactly how I envisioned it: acacia trees dispersed throughout the topography, vervet monkeys curiously checking us out from above, hippos up to their eye balls in muddy waters, majestic giraffes nibbling on whistling thorn bushes and lions resting in the shade, protected from the merciless mid-day equatorial sun. But the peace I perceive is haunting, misleading and temporary. The skulls and bones strewn across the landscape speak of a different reality. Here the weak are eaten first, the darkness treacherous and lions -not humans- occupy the top of the food chain.
We are in the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, close to the east coast of Africa. In a small plane it takes 45 minutes to fly here from Dar Es Salaam. This 50,000 sqkm (19,300 sqmi) park is less known than the Serengeti or Kruger National Parks, but with a land area greater than Switzerland or Denmark and twice the size of Massachusetts, Selous is the largest game reserve in the world. It is part of a 155,000 sqkm (60,000 sqmi) large ecosystem, an area almost totally void of villages, cattle, roads, farmed land and people. It is described as “the real thing” when it comes to African wilderness.
Selous is the second of six natural game reserves my wife Kit and I plan to visit over a two week period (the first was Amboseli in Kenya). The other four are Lokobe, Hluhluwe, Tala and Inkwenkwezi. Equipped with two cameras, three lenses, my laptop and four eyes that constantly scan the landscape for iconic African wild life (Kit is helping me identify the next perfect shot), I plan to digitally capture as many animal and bird species as I can. Also, I want to learn about the state of the different reserves, the threats to their wildlife stocks and the political landscape that will define and determine the fate of these precious territories.
As we have noticed already, reaching the reserves in a timely manner and returning before the ship sails is always a challenge. The African concept of time is fluid and traffic unpredictable. In Africa, when the car in front of you stops, you might have enough time to read a 500 page novel before traffic moves on. Like a gazelle grazing too close to a sleeping lion, Africa appears to be too close to always-looming chaos.
I have created a new Gallery page just for Game Reserve images and posted the first set of photographs taken in the Amboseli Game Reserve in Kenya and the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. Of course, there are more to follow. Stay tuned for my story about the state of the game reserves in eastern and southern Africa in early December.