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.
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 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!).
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…