When trying to observe and keep track of nocturnal animals, one of the best times to do so is just before dawn. Because so many of them are active only at night, it is physically impossible to spot them during the day. Imagine sparkling eyes staring at you from a great distance. Or the sight of a leopard slinking its way through the grasslands like it owns the place.
You will have the opportunity to see the bush in its natural state if you go on a night drive. The common occurrence of predators following their prey around. In addition, some primates are active only at night, such as bush babies, which live in the canopy and hunt the insects that come out to feed.
With a good amount of information, a night safari can be just as exciting as a drive in the early morning or the afternoon. Let’s take a look at these details regarding the spectacular night drive safari.
What is a Night Drive?
A night drive safari is a guided game drive that takes place just after sunset in a national park, conservancy, or private reserve to spot nocturnal animals using a spotlight and experience the wilderness in a different light. This type of safari is also known as a nocturnal safari.
During a night drive, guests typically travel in an open-top vehicle with a trained safari guide who is equipped with a spotlight as well as other equipment to assist in spotting wildlife hiding in trees and bushes. When a spotlight is used, the reflection of the animal’s eyes can be seen. Night game drives are a popular part of safaris and are typically more peaceful and less crowded than game drives that take place during the day. They provide a more personal and all-encompassing encounter with the African bush.
Nocturnal Animals on a Night Drive
Guided night safaris are an excellent way to spot nocturnal animals that are active during the night, such as owls, bush babies, springhare, genets, aardvark, porcupines, bat-eared foxes, African civets, hyenas, or leopards. Other nocturnal animals that can be spotted include bat-eared foxes, aardvarks, and porcupines.
They are also an excellent chance to experience the sights and sounds of the wilderness at night, such as the calls of nocturnal birds, the rustling of leaves as animals move through the bush, and the opportunity to learn about the planets and star constellations that are visible in the night sky.
Night Drive Safari Destinations
Night drive safaris are essentially game drives that take place after dark with the assistance of a very powerful spotlight. These safaris are offered by some companies. Following the traditional “sundowners” — cocktails served to guests in honor of the breathtaking African sunset — the afternoon game drive is resumed, and guests continue on a night drive before returning to camp in time for dinner. This is the standard operating procedure.
Night drives are typically only available at camps and lodges that are located on private land outside of national parks. This is because national parks prohibit driving at night. The most significant benefit of going on night drives is the increased likelihood of spotting nocturnal animals like aardvarks, civets, and genets, which are much less likely to be spotted during the day. After dark, large cats, especially lions, and leopards, become more active, and there is a greater chance of spotting them hunting in certain regions.
1. Abu Camp (Okavango Delta, Botswana)
In the very center of the Okavango Delta, on a vast, private concession that spans over 400,000 acres, you’ll find Abu Camp. On the concession, you can find examples of all of the different habitat types that are found in the Delta, from permanent channels to flood plains, savanna bushveld to mopane forest, and open grassland. This wide variety of habitats provides a home for a wide variety of megafauna, including “dangerous game” like lions, leopards, buffalo, and elephants, as well as “plains game” like giraffes, hippos, and a spectacular variety of species of plains game.
The Okavango Delta is home to a plethora of other exciting activities, and visitors are strongly encouraged to take advantage of them during their time there. In addition to the game viewing that can be done from the back of an elephant, guests can also go on game drives in specially adapted open 4×4 safari vehicles. This allows guests to cover more ground in their pursuit of the wildlife that inhabits the Delta. Insight into some of Africa’s nocturnal species can be gained during night drives, and gliding through the Delta’s channels and floodplains in a “mekoro” or dugout canoe provides yet another viewpoint on this picture-perfect setting. The experience of the Delta would not be complete without the guided walks and bird-watching opportunities.
2. Anabezi Tented Camp (Lower Zambazi, Zambia)
Due to its location in the peaceful middle of Lower Zambezi, Anabezi is an excellent choice for a base from which to undertake a personal and in-depth exploration of the abundant natural beauty and wildlife of the park. Ancient Ana Tree forests, towering riverine vegetation, and expansive floodplains are home to a large variety of game, such as elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards, zebras, an abundance of different species of antelope, rare animals such as aardvarks and pangolins, and more than 500 different kinds of bird species.
Activities at Anabezi are numerous and diverse, and they make use of both the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that are located near the camp. Boating safaris, canoeing excursions, and fishing expeditions showcase the beauty of the Zambezi River Valley and provide close encounters with some of the denizens of the river, such as hippos, crocodiles, and Tiger fish. Game drives, night drives, and walking safaris maximize exposure to Africa’s high-profile savanna species.
3. Busanga Bush Camp (Kafue Park, Zambia)
The Busanga Bush Camp has a fantastic setting on a forested “island” that looks out over the expansive Busanga Plains. It can be found in the northwestern part of Zambia’s Kafue National Park, which is one of the largest national parks in all of Africa.
The Busanga Plains are known for their expansive grasslands, which provide the perfect environment for herbivores, and are home to large populations of plains game. These herds, in turn, draw in a large number of predators, and the Busanga Plains area provides excellent opportunities to see lions and cheetahs in their natural habitat. The abundance of games is the primary focus of the activities offered at Busanga Bush Camp. Guests spend the majority of their time on game drives conducted in open-air safari vehicles; these drives can take place during the day or at night.
4. Chiawa Camp (Lower Zambezi, Zambia)
The town of Chiawa can be found smack dab in the middle of Lower Zambezi National Park, perched precariously on the riverbanks of the Zambezi. It is difficult to picture a more picture-perfect setting for a safari camp than this one, with the mountains of the Zambian Escarpment serving as a backdrop. Together, these two national parks offer a fertile and wild sanctuary for the animals of Africa. The Mana Pools National Park can be found on the Zimbabwean side of the river, which is across from Hwange National Park.
Activities at Chiawa are plentiful and varied thanks to the incredibly rich environment that the town enjoys. Day and night game drives provide guests with the opportunity to view a diverse array of wildlife from the comfort of open-air safari vehicles. Guests can get an even better feel for the African wilderness by participating in interactive bush walks while being led by an armed guide. Canoe trips are another peaceful and personal way to experience Africa, and sunset game-viewing cruises on the camp’s pontoon provide the ideal way to wind down after an action-packed day. Anglers will not want to miss out on the exceptional tiger fishing along this section of the Zambezi River.
5. Cottars 1920s Safari Camp (Maasai Mara, Kenya)
Cottars enjoys the best of both worlds thanks to its location less than a mile from the Maasai Mara Reserve. Not only does it offer the exclusivity of activities on its private conservancy, but it also provides quick and easy access to the Reserve whenever it is desired (for example, for river crossings during the migration). Because the majority of the Reserve’s rare black rhinos live in this secluded and peaceful area of the south-eastern corner of the Mara, guests at Cottar’s have an exceptionally high chance of seeing these endangered animals. The Mara is home to a wide variety of terrain and habitat.
Since 1919, the Cottar family has been an integral part of the safari industry in Kenya, and nobody places a higher priority on the quality of the guidance than they do. Game drives, night game drives, and walking safaris are all available to guests of Cottars, all of which are led by some of the most experienced guides and spotters in Kenya. The local Maasai community leases the land on which the cottars is located from the Conservancy, and guests staying at the lodge have the opportunity to visit one of the Maasai villages in the area for cultural interactions that are both authentic and respectful.
Reasons for Going in a Night Drive Safari
The sky is getting darker, and with it comes an increase in the level of excitement. To get you ready for the action later, your guide will take you on some particularly scenic routes. Here are reasons in favor of going on a safari at night.
1. The atmosphere of a safari night drive
There is something truly magical about going on a safari at night, something that you won’t fully grasp until you’ve had the opportunity to do it for yourself. Whether it be the thrill of the night, the glinting eyes in the distance, the light breeze, or the crisp air, there is something about the night that captivates people. It could be the wild’s strange sounds and noises, especially if they are loud.
When night falls, it’s as if the tables have been turned completely. During the day, you may have the sensation of being onlookers who are captivated by the natural world. However, once night falls, the animals have the advantage when it comes to keeping an eye on you and their potential prey.
2. Nighttime game viewing of weird-looking yet amazing animals
When you go on a night drive safari, you have the chance to see unusual and rare animals that only come out to play at that time. In addition to having strange and wonderful-looking faces, the names of some of these creatures can also be quite extraordinary. As in the case of the aardvark, also known as the “earth pig.”
During the night, you will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the beloved bush baby’s sparkling eyes. Or there’s the solitary porcupine, which during the day is such a rare sight that it’s almost unheard of. There is a possibility that you will see larger beasts, in addition to the smaller mammals. Some examples of these are the mysterious leopard and the whimsical spotted hyena.
You might have a passion for birds, but because you don’t want to miss out on morning viewings, you’re not too keen on the idea of staying up late for a night drive. However, even people who are passionate about birds will find the night to be very exciting. After dark, you may be able to see several different species of nightjars. Because these birds typically prefer the warmth of dirt roads and can blend in well with their surroundings, it is essential to exercise extreme caution to avoid running over them.
Other species of nocturnal birds that are common and should be watched for at night include:
- Marsh owl
- African grass owl
- Barn owl
- Spotted eagle-owl
- Freckled nightjar
- African scops owl
- Rufous-cheeked nightjar
- African wood owl
- Cape eagle-owl
3. Stargazing during a night drive
A night drive safari is an absolute necessity if you have any aspirations of seeing unobstructed views of the night sky filled with stars. After dusk, the skies above a safari are typically clear, and it is a truly remarkable experience to be able to observe them while riding in an open-air vehicle. You’re in for a real treat because there isn’t any light pollution where you are.
4. Sounds heard during a night drive
This is perhaps the most magical sensation that can be experienced during night drives. The only sound that can be heard is that of crickets chirping, strange noises emanating from the dense undergrowth, or the howling of animals. Which is certain to produce an exciting sensation in the recipient.
Have you ever slept in a tent while being surrounded by wild animals? It’s something you should test out for yourself. There is a good chance that you will hear the footsteps of wandering warthogs as well as the cackle of a hyena in the distance. Maybe even the menacing sounds of trees collapsing from the trunk of a solitary bull elephant.
The following are some additional noises that may be heard in the night:
- Lion and leopard grunts
- The unsettling sound of a nightjar
- The sound of a reed frog at dusk
- Crushing dried grasses under an elephant’s foot
- The captivating call of the pearl-spotted owlet
5. The safari lights brighten up the grass
Only one item is required for night drives: a spotlight. A tracker typically flashes the light left and right from the front of the 444. Scanning the area with a torch allows you to catch glimpses of the animal’s eyes, which can help you figure out where they are.
Keep in mind that shining directly into the eyes of animals (especially non-nocturnal ones) can blind them. In some cases, they are up to six times more sensitive to light than we are.
It’s also worth noting the use of a flash camera. Nighttime drives are an excellent opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature. This is not to say that a good camera isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, only high-quality cameras can capture these nocturnal creatures in action. When using the camera’s flash, use caution because, like a flashlight, it can frighten the animals. And, in some cases, cause eye damage.
Taking a game drive as the sun begins to set, or a couple of hours after dark, can completely change your perception and experience of the bush. Although it is often overlooked in favor of a day drive, the night drive reveals animals that you would never have expected to see.