Selous’ grave: Turning desolation into treasure

27Nov 2016
Lucas Liganga
Guardian On Sunday
Selous’ grave: Turning desolation into treasure

THE flat gray stone on the place where Frederick Selous, a British explorer, military officer, hunter and conservationist, is buried is, for all practical purposes, all that marks this great man’s grave. It has for almost a century now been left to the whims and vagaries of the elements.

However, thanks to the newly established Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA), that is about to change. Measures are being taken to refurbish the grave with a view to turning it into a tourist destination in its own right.

The Selous Game Reserve, covering 50,000 square kilometres and one of the largest faunal reserves of the world located in the south of Tanzania, was named after Frederick Selous, a famous big game hunter and early conservationist, who died at Beho Beho in 1917 while fighting against German colonizers during World War I.

But as the world is set to mark 100 years since the conservationist’s death in January next, year, his grave, one of the highly visited areas in Beho Beho in Selous Game Reserve, the authorities seem determined to give the hunter’s last resting place a fitting facelift. Selous was killed on January 4, 1917.

According to TAWA, which was formed last year by the government to reinforce the fight against poaching and conservation activities, plans are afoot to improve non-consumptive wildlife utilization, natural sceneries and other cultural attractions such as the grave of the man who gave the reserve its name.

Martin Loibooki, TAWA acting director general, told The Guardian on Sunday in an email interview this week that Selous’ grave was lined up for redecoration by erecting a befitting sign which would describe much about the late explorer-cum-conservationist.

“This will involve describing who Selous was and what his contribution in conservation was in Tanzania. We may also build a resting hut and an information centre close to the grave,” said Loibooki, who boasts vast experience in wildlife conservation.

The budget for refurbishment of the grave will be planned for next year, he added.
Mafedha Dionis, a game driver with Dar es Salaam-based Molgan Tours and Safaris Company, said some tourists travelled all the way from Europe just to see Selous’ grave, adding that their eagerness would turn into disappointed when they noticed how desolate the grave is..

“Oh my dream,” Dionis quoted a female tourist from Britain as crying with disbelief on seeing the abandoned state in which the grave was on her recent visit to Selous Game Reserve.

Loibooki said: “It is imperative that this grave be properly preserved and maintained because it stands to be one of the attractions for visitors in the area.”

The TAWA boss said in recognition of the fact that photographic tourism in Selous Game Reserve was still in its infancy, it was imperative that more efforts were put in the place, especially in visitor facilities, its promotion and marketing.

“Plans are also underway to develop and improve non-consumptive tourism activities, consequently diversifying them to include, among others, Selous’ grave, walking safari, hide lunches and development of hot spring sites for swimming and picnicking in Beho Beho hills,” he said.

Frederick Courteney Selous was born on December 31, 1851 at Regent's Park, London, as one of five children of an aristocratic family, the third generation of the part-Huguenot heritage.

Selous is best remembered as one of the world’s most revered hunters, as he pursued big-game hunting in southern African homelands, including Tanzania, and in wildernesses worldwide.

Accounts of his youth are filled with stories of trespassing, poaching and brawling, almost all within romanticised and humorous portrayals.

On September 4, 1871, at the age of 19, he left England with £400 in his pocket, determined to earn his living as a professional elephant hunter, and by the age of 25 he was known far and wide in South Africa as one of the most successful ivory hunters of the day.

In 1909-1910 Selous accompanied former US President Theodore Roosevelt on his famous African safari.

Selous is the last of big game hunters of southern Africa, the last of the mighty hunters whose experience lay in the greatest hunting ground which this world has seen since civilized man appeared.

On January 4, 1917, Selous was fighting a bush war on the banks of the Rufiji River against the German colonial Schutztruppen, outnumbered five to one.

That morning, he was creeping forward in combat during a minor engagement when he raised his head and binoculars to locate the enemy. He was shot in the head by a German sniper and was killed instantly.

Upon receiving the news, American President Roosevelt, who was his close friend, wrote: “He led a singularly adventurous and fascinating life, with just the right alternations between the wilderness and civilization...”

He was buried under a tamarind tree near the place of his death in today's Selous Game Reserve in a modest, flat stone grave with a simple bronze plaque reading: “CAPTAIN F.C. SELOUS D.S.O., 25TH ROYAL FUSILIERS, KILLED IN ACTION 4.1.17.”

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