Tips for travelling in Tanzania, Africa: What to do when you come across a dangerous animal

 

If an angry bull elephant tilts its head back, flaps its ears and then thunders towards you, keep your cool, our guide instructs us. Don't run, don't hide and definitely don't fall on your knees and pray.

Instead, stand still, look him right in the eye, hold your ground and shout at him. Shout at him? Shout at a huge, three-tonne creature coming at you full tilt in the faint hope you'll scare him?

"Yes, that's right," says Hamza, a guide in Africa's oldest, biggest and, some say, wildest wildlife reserve, the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. "Hopefully, the elephant will be mock-charging you anyway to warn you." Hopefully …

And if you come across a lion? It's the same advice in the briefing before starting a three-hour early morning walk through the reserve. One of Hamza's friends, as part of his training to be a guide, had to hike alone through the bush. He chanced upon a hungry pride and spent five hours shouting at his circling predators until they finally gave up and slunk away. By the time he made it back to camp, he'd decided he didn't want to be a guide any more. Nowadays, he's an accountant.

"But we will look after you out here," says Hamza, indicating our ranger Moses, who's armed with a rifle and five rounds of ammunition that he'll fire as a last resort. "Just make sure you walk in single file, don't talk, freeze when I signal to you, and do exactly as I say."

Today, the Selous Game Reserve, first set aside by the occupying German colonialists in 1896 and later named after legendary British hunter and explorer turned naturalist Frederick Selous, is exciting a fresh raft of interest.

Stretching these days over 56,000 square kilometres – three times bigger than the Serengeti and more than twice the size of South Africa's Kruger – with the broad waters of the Rufiji River flowing into the delta and two large lakes, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Some fringe parts of the reserve, home to a huge variety of animals and birdlife, including thousands of hippos and crocs, have always been set aside for hunting, in the tradition of Selous himself. They're a lucrative money-earner for the reserve and the Tanzanian Government, but now politicians, in their enthusiasm for the kind of tourism that only shoots with cameras, seems to be rethinking that stance too.

"There's talk that the government is closing some hunting blocks and, if they open again, then they might raise the price of animals for hunting very very high," says Joseph Lorena, of the African tourist company Asilia Africa. The director of another tour company in Tanzania isn't sure what might happen either.

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"But the winds of change are certainly now coming through," he says. And Sirili Akko, the executive secretary of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators, won't be drawn. "That's a very, very sensitive subject," he says.

"But in Tanzania we have 20 per cent of the large animals on this continent and we have put aside a third of our country for parks, so we are the trustees of these wild animals for the rest of the world."

It does mean, however, that there's going to be a lot more emphasis on attracting wildlife-lovers to the Selous, and a new five-star luxury tented camp opened late in 2017, Roho ya Selous. With eight tents, each set on a sandy rise with full bathrooms, huge beds and views down to the river, the lounge and dining tents are also beautifully designed by South African architects.

The camp offers a full range of activities, including boat trips – with a stop on the water's edge for the obligatory sundowner drinks and canapes – fishing, game drives, fly camping and, yes, walking safaris.

It's on one of these we're now about to embark and, suitably prepared and nervous, we wait while Hamza takes a bottle and puffs a tiny cloud of ash into the air to check which way the wind's blowing. We always want to be down-breeze of the animal so it can't smell us, he explains. And then, hearts in our mouths, we head off. It's a leisurely walk with many stops to stare at the water beside us, where hippo grunt and spray water into the air, then bob up, take a look at us, then splash back down. We blanche as crocodile slink off the banks into the water. Carefully, we give a wide berth to buffalo who, thankfully, just stand and stare as we pass.

Later, we see giraffe and elephant in the distance and, all around us, baboon play in the trees, with their young often trying to swing but falling down to the ground with a thump before scurrying back up the trunks.

Then, almost three hours in, the guide suddenly stops dead and holds up his hand to halt us. "Lion!" he declares, as he holds up his hand and we all wobble to a sudden halt. Yes, we can even hear the roars, too. They sound very close by. He glances back at our pale faces and smiles. "But they're a long way away," he says. "Is he sure?" we ask anxiously. "Yes," he replies. "I'm sure. You just have to do one thing now …" We look at him quizzically, ready to do whatever he says.

"Eat breakfast!" We all look in the direction he's pointing towards a white cloth-covered table under the shade of a tree beside the river, laden with juice, coffee, fruit, cereal, eggs, muffins and wraps.

"Sit down and relax," Hamza instructs us. "You're safe. Nothing's going to get you now …"

THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMALS TO HUMANS IN AFRICA

1. MOSQUITOS

Malaria kills more than a million people a year.

2. HIPPOS

Never come between a hippo and the water, or its babies.

3. ELEPHANT

An aggressive five-tonne elephant makes a jumbo enemy.

4. BLACK MAMBA SNAKE

The biggest venomous snake in Africa.

5. CROCODILE

Particularly dangerous to those bathing, washing their clothes or fishing by rivers.

6. LION

While some lions run from humans, fearing they may have a gun, you wouldn't want to depend on that.

7. BUFFALO

Kill about 200 people a year by charging, then goring, them.

8. RHINO

Can be short-sighted and bad-tempered; a dangerous combination.

Source: goafrica.about.com

TRIP NOTES

MORE

The Classic Safari Company, Ph (02) 9327 0666; See classicsafaricompany.com.au selousgamereserve.net

FLY

Qatar Airways flies to Dar es Salaam via Doha, and Emirates flies via Dubai, then there's an internal Coastal Aviation flight on a Cessna Caravan to Selous. See qatarairways.com emirates.com, coastal.co.tz

STAY

Roho ya Selous has eight luxury tents, powered by solar and with full Wi-Fi, flush toilets, a free laundry service, and with beds fitted with the Evening Breeze cooling system which makes nights much more comfortable. From US$700 a night. Ph +255 736 500 515; See asiliaafrica.com/tanzania/selous

Book via The Classic Safari Company: Ph (02) 9327 0666; See classicsafaricompany.com.au

Sue Williams travelled courtesy of The Classic Safari Company

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