Camping in the African Night

In some ways, night is my favorite time on safari.  As the campsite quiets down I lie in my sleeping bag thinking back on the day’s game sightings and listening for sounds of the African night.  I can make out the stars through the tent’s mesh window.  I’m tired from an exciting day in the bush but I fight off sleep so I can listen for the sounds of the night.  Far off I hear the roar of a lion and then the plaintive howl of a hyena.  In the mopane trees above the camp an African Scops owl calls into the night with its repeating single note.  Then a twig snaps near the tent.  I immediately recall the story Prince told us after dinner and my thoughts race to identify the cause of the snapping branch.   On the morning after our first night camping it was made obvious that my tent partner and I were enthusiastic snorers.  The next night we moved our tents a little away from the main group.  Prince told us that on the previous trip two guys who were snoring woke up in the morning with a ring of lion tracks around their tent.   Evidently, the lions came during the night to investigate the snoring.  But sleep takes over and I drift off imagining a lion sniffing my tent during the night as he wonders what could be making that strange sound….

Camping in the bush provides an unparalleled experience of the African night.  On a GrassTrack safari you will experience the night in a wide variety of habitats.  Besides sitting next to the campfire or lying in the tent looking at the stars, taking a night drive is an amazing introduction to the nocturnal animals of Africa.  Many of the smaller mammals become active while others begin their hunt for food.  Botswana’s parks do not allow night drives, however night drives are allowed in the Kwai concession in northern Botswana.  This concession is managed by the local Kwai community and is adjacent to both Moremi and Chobe.  GrassTrack Safaris can arrange a night drive for you and it’s an experience not to be missed.

We set out after dark for a few hours and search the rivers, grasslands and treetops with a powerful spotlight.  As we scan the surrounding landscape with the light you’ll see the reflection of many eyes staring back at you.  It’s a great opportunity to see nocturnal animals not normally active in daylight, like pangolins or bushbabies.  On night drives in Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa,  I’ve seen hippos walking through the bush as they search for grazing, genets, civets, elephants, various antelopes on high alert for predators, owls, elephant shrews, leopard kills hanging from tree branches, and an up close view of a lion pride with cubs.  We spend 2-3 hours searching for game before returning to camp. 

Since our campsites are located in the remote bush and unfenced, it’s not unusual to have nocturnal visitors.  Once the campsite quiets down, hyenas and jackals patrol the edges of camp looking for any scraps.  A strong flashlight is useful to scan beyond the fire and will show the eye reflections of any animals nearby.  We were awoken in the middle of the night once to the clattering of pots and pans.  It was pair of honey badgers looking for leftovers.  This is why it’s important to keep a clean camp and certainly no food in your tent!

As I stumble out of the tent at 6am the next morning I take a quick look around for any animal tracks.  Not seeing any I make my way to the campfire for a cup of coffee to prepare for another day of game drives.  Daylight is, of course, when you’ll see the most game but night brings out a new side of Africa.  You’ll have to depend on your ears not your eyes to appreciate the night environment.  Whether you’re sitting around the fire listening for animals or enjoying the excitement of a night drive, camping in the bush is the ultimate introduction to the magic of the African night.

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