Picture yourself watching a sunset- the warmth of the last sun’s rays on your skin, the cold of the first gin and tonic in your hand. One loses track of time.
Then as the soft light turns into darkness things start to change. You emerge from your sunset trance and look around. Your vision starts failing you in the semi-darkness. For us diurnal animals this is potentially an uncomfortable time. We start looking for safe havens in which to wait for morning. Impala and wildebeest start gathering in open clearings for the night, baboons and monkeys ascend trees, humans return to the comfort of camp.

However for many, this is a time to take advantage of.
Like the party animals back in Varty Camp boma, some animals’ nights are just about to begin. Many of these nocturnal creatures are rarely seen or heard about, and I often find that guests have no idea what to expect on the night drive back to camp. Let’s take a look at some of the nocturnal animals one might bump into (not literally):

When darkness falls it acts as an invisible cloak for some, like leopards on the prowl. For others darkness is safety – at night on Londolozi scrub hares emerge en masse. A game drive back to camp in the dark may have been where the phrase “breed like rabbits” originated. See how many you can count on your next night drive back to camp.

Scrub Hare. I always find it decidedly contrasting leaving an intense sighting of, perhaps, a pride of lions squabbling violently over a freshly killed kudu carcass, all teeth and claws, blood and bones, and five minutes later we’re rounding a corner and the headlights illuminate a tiny, delicate ball of fur with two absurdly long ears and big brown eyes looking stunned.

However, this is not a rabbit at all. It is a hare, and there is an easy distinction that can be made. Hares are born with hair (fur, more correctly) and are ready to hop from the drop, whereas rabbits are born naked and blind in underground warrens. However when we come across them at night the tracker and I don’t go sticking our heads down potential rabbit warrens or digging through scrub looking for birthing sites to differentiate. The most obvious factors are that hares have longer ears and longer hind legs. Fortunately there is no getting confused as no rabbits occur here at Londolozi.

A little further down the jeep track you come across this fella:

The African Civet. The interesting black mask-of-Zorro marking across the face gives the civet a mischievous appearance. However, it is the back end of this animal that has attracted much interest from us humans…

The name civet might ring a bell for some of you – perfume and/or coffee! The African civet species we see here at Londolozi secretes ‘civetone’ from its peri-anal gland for marking territory. This has been traditionally used as an ingredient in perfume production. Diluted, the odour of civet secretion, which normally is strong and repulsive, becomes, (as an advertisement I found put it) “pleasant with animalistic-musk nuance”.

Probably the more famous civet species is the one who plays a role in the production of the most expensive coffee in the world. Coincidentally this brings us once again to the rear end of this animal; the coffee is made from berries that have passed thought the digestive tract of the civet! Don’t fret- we have not been serving you your morning cuppa from the bowls of this coffee collector. These beans are gathered from Asian palm civet dung. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this civet does not occur here but is found in South East Asia, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. The beans apparently improve the coffee in two ways: firstly, it is argued that only the best berries will be selected to be eaten by the civet – basically a sorting table in animal form. Secondly, the digestive process apparently alters the seeds of the coffee berries chemically, so that when roasted they are far superior.

At the end of the day, like with a fine wine, it is up to the individual to decide what is a pleasant smelling perfume or an exceptional cup of coffee.

Leaving the civet in our dust, the spotlight catches the flash of eyes reflecting in a thick bush next to the road. Its a bush baby. And no, its not an abandoned child raised by a clan of hyenas, but small tree-dwelling primate. The trackers here have an incredible knack of spotting them with their massive eyes (the bush babies have massive eyes, that is, although one would think the trackers do too at the rate they spot the most inconspicuous animals!).

The lesser bush baby is almost always seen in trees where it forages at night living mainly off tree gum and various insects. Photograph by Mike Sutherland.

Now when you see a bush baby, be ready for it to jump. A Royal Society study showed that a bush baby’s leg muscles can perform six to nine times better than that of a frog! Its jump is so efficient that scientists in the US have designed a jumping robot inspired by the mechanics of this seemingly spring-loaded jumper. It is planned that the robot will be used for search and rescue in disaster zones.
When one considers that bush babies have been estimated to visit over 500 trees a night, you can imagine that if the US get it right, that may turn out to be one efficient robot.

Just as you probably won’t see all of Londolozi small after-dark inhabitants on one drive, we’ll keep you waiting until next time to reveal some of the other smaller creatures you might see in the glare of a spotlight here.

Look out for Londolozi Nightlife: Part 2, coming soon…

About the Author

Rob Jeffery

Field Guide

Rob joined the Londolozi team at the start of 2017. Having grown up on a farm in the Cape and spending many holidays traveling Southern Africa he developed a love for the outdoors and an appreciation for the natural world. After completing a ...

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16 Comments

on Londolozi’s Nightlife: Part 1

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Malavika Gupta

Very interesting article. I also loved the unique first photo of the sunset with the tree branches and thorns over it.

Dave Mills

Very good, Rob. You’ve a well-inked pen. And an eye for good photo ops.

Dina Petridis

hoping for an aardvark next time!

Henry Smith

Very nice post, Rob. As someone who fights night photography challenging, I particularly like the photos of the hare and the civet – and I had no idea how useful the civets apparently are! Can we special order some Civet Coffee for our next Londolozi visit?

Rob Jeffery

Yes, night photography is challenging! We will have to see what we can do about that coffee! Thanks for the comment Henry.

Marinda Drake

Interesting blog Rob. It is always exciting driving back to camp after a drink stop as you do not know what you might encounter after dark.

Wendy Macnicol

Dear Rob What a very interesting blog! We were visited once by a Civet who stayed for about 20 minutes. He was our first Civet. We were having a braai and I think he was wanting to join in! On the other side of him was a Porcupine! An evening to remember ….. Wendy

Rob Jeffery

What an amazing sighting! Thanks for sharing Wendy.

Joanne Wadsworth

Excellent images and information….but I’ll pass on the coffee! Lol.

Callum Evans

The nocturnal mammals are always the hardest to see. Out of these ones I’ve only seen the scrub hare. Though I have been lucky enough to see both honey badger and aardwolf twice, and black-footed cats three times, so I’m doing fine! Still looking for the aardvark and pangolin, like most people!

Jennifer Ridgewell

Thanks Rob, really enjoyed this blog, info and photos. Very nice and oft taken-for-granted Scrub Hare (they also enjoy living of our golf course!) plus the artistic thorn tree in sunset! Yet to taste Civet Coffee – maybe something to look forward to?

Rob Jeffery

Yes, I think if I got the chance I would have to taste that coffee! Thanks for the comment.

Judith Guffey

Great job, Rob. Reads like you are talking to me.

Rob Jeffery

Thanks Judi! Just like we’re on another game drive. Hope you are well!

Wendy Hawkins

Stunning pictures & very humerous write up Rob! I just adore the bush babies, they are just adorable. Thank you

Michael & Terri Klauber

Rob,

Thanks for a wonderful, educational look at all those flashing eyes we see on the way back to party-central at the Varty Boma!

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