(Photo Blogging Day 30)
My first ever safari was the Night Safari in Singapore about 15 years ago. Essentially a night zoo, my friend who was living there insisted my sister and I visit. We did so eagerly, as both of us had always wanted to go to Africa. It was magic – I’ll never forget the sight of the fishing cats standing by the stream, dipping their paws into the water in an attempt to catch some dinner, or particularly, of the giraffes in shadow. Africa was calling to me even then.
Of course I know now that the reason for a Night Safari is that so many animals are nocturnal. Still, when I finally got to Africa, I was surprised to find that every day we would spend about an hour on game drives in the dark. The tracker would sit on the front of the jeep, and scan the bush with his spotlight. It became mesmerising – we would all follow the movement of the spotlight, hoping to see something. Of course, we never did. Well, not until the tracker pointed it out to us.
Our first sighting was a leopard. The tracker signalled to the ranger (who drove the jeep) to stop the vehicle.
“He thought he saw a leopard,” said Dylan, the ranger, to us. The tracker, Fani, was disgusted with him.
“Oh, okay,” said Dylan. “He did see a leopard.”
We looked out into the darkness, trying to follow the spotlight. Fani managed to pinpoint the leopard, and slowly our inexperienced eyes could make out the two glowing lights of the leopard’s eyes. It seemed impossible that Fani had seen it as he scanned the landscape, catching it for just a split second. But he had.
Over those days we discovered what extraordinary eyesight Fani and the other African trackers have. A few nights later the car stopped quickly. Fani had found us a bush baby. A rare and very special sighting, and one that we couldn’t photograph; any flash would have hurt its eyes, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I do have evidence of a wildcat though, but in general much of what we saw at night was for our eyes only.
A day or two later, my husband turned 50, and it seemed we were driving a long way for our evening drinks that night. We saw some lights in the distant, and as we got closer, we found that a staff member from the lodge had set up a table under a marula tree, encircled by lanterns (to keep animals away), and was cooking up some goodies to go with our champagne. There was of course a cake too. The sky was clear, and our ranger used the spotlight to point out the major constellations. The Milky Way was spectacular that evening, and I fell in love with the night sky in a way I never had before. It was a birthday neither of us will forget.
A week or so later at another game reserve, we took a wild ride as Stuart came across a porcupine one night. The porcupine turned and raced off up the track. Stuart was screeching delightedly as the jeep bounced after it,
“Two years I’ve been here, and I’ve never seen one before!”
It took off into the bush, and Stuart chased it, but it was soon lost in the undergrowth.
Other sightings on our safaris include a chameleon, elephants, leopards, the occasional hippopotamus caught out of the water, and a lioness, its fur stained red around its mouth, finishing off some dinner.
The highlight though was the night we were treated with a dinner in the bush, next to Ulusaba’s observatory. Lanterns and lamps were placed around the barbecue and the outdoor furniture that had been set up for us and our jeep-mates. Stuart periodically climbed up to the highest part of the jeep to scan the surroundings with the spotlight. A herd of buffalo were resting only a hundred metres or so away, but they couldn’t see us and were mostly asleep, so the danger was limited. A clan of hyenas waited nearby, patiently hoping they’d get some of the barbecue leftovers. We were served champagne, and peered through the telescope at various constellations, including the Jewel Box cluster, and Saturn’s rings.
Nightlife. It means what you want it to mean.
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