Many people overlook the Southern Safari Circuit when they are planning a safari, but it is every bit as exciting as the Northern Circuit and once again, as on the Northern Circuit the combination of varying the experience one has of the different animals and birds, in a great variety of habitats, can be very rich indeed. The largest park on the southern circuit is the Selous, and is indeed, the largest game reserve in the whole of Africa .At over 45,000km²,it is more than twice the size of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, 50% bigger than Belgium, and is situated at the core of the Selous-Niassa ecosystem, which extends over 150,000km² of practically uninhabited land between southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique-the largest area of bush land wilderness left in Africa.
The Selous holds half the whole Tanzanian population of elephants with its 65,000 animals, the buffalo population is the largest on the continent, 35,000 Zebra, 25,000 impala and so on. It also contains several endangered species such as the African Wild Dog, with its enormous ears. They live in packs of up 50 animals and the Selous supports a population of about 1, 300 individuals out of a total remaining population of only 4, 000.Other endangered species to be found in the Selous are two species of antelope, the Sable Antelope and the Puku antelope . The Selous has 75% of the remaining population in Africa of this beautiful animal, which makes a strange whistling sound when it senses danger. Unfortunately the herd of Black Rhinos, estimated in 1980 at 3, 000 Has been decimated by poaching and now fewer than 200 animals remain.
The advantage of a Southern Circuit Safari is that two of the parks adjoin each other, the Ruaha National Park, is extremely highly rated by safari cognoscenti, because of the huge game concentrations around the Ruaha River. The Ruaha is Tanzania’s second largest national park and extends over10, 300 ² km of wooded hill and open plains, and follows the course of the great Ruaha River for 160 km. The Ruaha can be a rich experience at any time of the year, as January to June is greener and prettier because of the rains, but the game congregating around the river is most concentrated from May to November .birding peaks around December to April. The birdlife is really rich in both the Ruaha and the next park on the Circuit the Mikumi. The Ruaha his is the only reserve where the Crested Barbet, a bright yellow and black bird with a sustained trilling cry can be found. Watch out too for The Red-Billed Hornbill, and very large numbers of Raptors like the Bateleur, the Fish Eagle and the relatively rare Eleanor’s Falcon, which starts its migratory journey from the Aegean in the European Autumn.
The Mikumi National Park is flanked by the Uluguru Mountains to the North and the Uduzungwa Mountains to the South. The relatively recent opening up of the Uduzungwa with hiking trails (see trekking) make it ideal for a combination package of trekking and safari. The Mikumi grasslands hold very large zebra herds, elephants, Wildebeest, buffalo and impala as well as the rarer Greater Kudu, with its impressive horns. More than 400 species of birds have been reported in this birders’ paradise.
There are two smaller, but no less interesting parks on the Southern Circuit, which can easily be built into your programme. The Saadani is the only National Park that borders the Indian Ocean. With its diverse1100km², it is accessible from the historic coastal towns of Bagamoyo or Pangani (interesting places in themselves to visit .It contains the Wami River (where you can take a boat trip), which is rich in hippos and crocodiles and the beaches are nesting sites for Green Turtles. The grasslands are rich in giraffe, buffalo, waterbuck and other ungulates including the tiny Red Duiker, a shy antelope of coastal shrub.
The Kitulo National park is in the process of development. It is on the Kitulo Plateau and is known sometimes as the Serengeti of Flowers and locally as Bustani ya Mungo (God’s Garden). There are 45 varieties of terrestrial orchids alone in Kitulo, as well as Knipfhopfia,
( red-hot pokers), proteas, geraniums, giant lobelias, lilies , asters-31 of the plant species are endemic to Tanzania, 16 are endemic to this area alone. The Kitulo Plateau is of volcanic origin and at 2,6000m is one of the largest montane grassland areas in Tanzania. It is ideal for trekking, and is one of Tanzania’s best kept secrets, and a botanists and bird watchers paradise.
Like the Northern Safari Circuit, the Southern Circuit can be tailor –made to your time and your pocket, luxury lodges, budget lodges and campsites are available in the Selous, The Ruaha and the Mikumi. A typical Southern Circuit Itinerary could be covered in 7 days, with longer extensions possible – A safari trekking itinerary is also available. The Selous however cannot be visited in April, May and June, as the roads became impassable. Below is a 7 day itinerary which covers the three main parks on the Southern circuit
Today after an early start we drive to the Ruaha National Park, a 3 to 4 hour drive from the Mikumi. The Ruaha’s great interest is the concentration of animals around the rivers, especially between July to November, when the animals concentrate near the river .you will either stay at the Ruaha River Lodge, situated on a rocky hillside above some rapids on the river. Game viewing can be prolonged because after your game drives, you can watch the game from the camp. There are hippos resident on the river, elephant pass through regularly. Rock hyrax, which look like oversized guinea pigs are everywhere. We can also use the luxury Kigelia Camp, which is a mobile camp, set up between June to March .It is a real African experience for only limited numbers (really early booking essential), with sundowners round the camp fire and lodgings in tented structures.
The itinerary above is just an example –Longer and shorter itineraries are available on request. It is also easy to travel by ferry to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam or Pangani. The latter would be an ideal option combined with a safari in the Saadani National Park.