James, Sounds like the best way to spend an evening, wish I could join you
The short answer is, “No.”
We could end it there, but we should probably go into the discussion a little deeper.
Lions generally hunt on sight. ie. they hone in on their prey using vision, coordinating their attack based on where they see their prey moving. Sure, they might become aware of its presence by hearing or smelling it, but the final rush is done on sight. This is the same for a leopard or a cheetah or a wild dog.
And on the other side of the equation, the prey are also using their sense of sight to escape the lions, or whatever may be pursuing them. Dodging obstacles that will hinder their flight, handbrake turning past other members of a pride… it’s all vision based, as responses have to be instant. It’s literally life-and-death.
For lions then, the key to hunting success lies in the conditions being heavily skewed in their favour. Sounds obvious.
Since we’ve just established that sight is the most important sense in a hunt and evasion scenario, it’s logical that the best conditions would be ones in which their sight is favoured over the prey’s.
And that, quite simply, is darkness. And not the darkness shortly after sunset with a slight pink tinge in the western sky. No, we’re talking the stygian black of a cloudy night with no moon when you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face.
The commonly thrown around statistic is that lions are able to see 8 times better than us in the dark. If there was literally no light, they wouldn’t be able to see either, just like us, but their powers come from their ability to assimilate even the faintest starlight or glow through the clouds, and create a resolvable image from that.
Lions’ eyes – like ours – contain rods and cones: photoreceptors in the retina that are responsible for colour vision (cones) and low light vision (rods). Nocturnal animals (lions included) have a far greater proportion of rods than cones, which although compromising their colour vision somewhat, helps make a night with only a half-moon look like the fully spotlit pitch during half-time at the Superbowl.
At the back of their eyes they also have a reflective layer called the Tapetum lucidum; basically a layer of tissue whose function is to provide the retina’s photoreceptors a second chance of detecting light in low-light conditions. It is the Tapetum lucidum that causes the eye-shine we see when looking for animals at night with a spotlight.
The combination of the excessive rod count and the reflective layer provide amazing nocturnal vision for lions; one which they put to good use when hunting.
Although most of their prey species possess Tapeta lucida as well, theirs generally don’t provide as effective night vision as the big cats’. Allied with this is the fact that lions have binocular vision, ie. their eyes point forward, enabling them to judge depth. Prey species generally have a wider field of vision with their eyes on the sides of their head, and this likely impairs their ability to resolve single objects after dark.
The bottom line is that the darker it is, the better for lions. A full moon allows us to see well during the night. We can sit quite happily with our spotlights off and watch a pride of lions moving like ghosts through the grass, but if our eyes allow us to do this, the eyes of the prey animals can definitely do it as well.
The full moon is therefore a hindrance to nocturnal predators.
It’s like a big flare has been shot up, and so much of a disadvantage is it having a bright moon shining down, that lions will often disdain from hunting at all until hours later when the moon dips below the horizon, or clouds have covered it. I once sat with the Tsalala pride for over two hours after dark hoping they’d move, but they simply slept and slept. And then suddenly, within 5 minutes of the moon having finally dipped below the western horizon, they were up and moving and killed an impala only a few minutes later.
The moon rises about 50 minutes later each night. Full moon is officially tomorrow, and it rises at the same time as the sun sets. This means that in two days time, on the 22nd March, it will rise roughly 50 minutes after sunset. And on the 23rd, an hour and 40 minutes after sunset.
Over the next week, lions across the reserve will be having longer and longer periods of darkness at the start of the evening before the waning moon rises.
So expect a “The subscriber you have dialled is not available” message from me after 7pm for the next week or so. I’ll be sitting with the Ntsevu pride, lights out, listening, waiting…
Filed under Featured Lions Safari experience Wildlife
Absolutely; if the animals are there we regularly go out and stick with them after dark.
We find it’s far more productive to sit WITH an animal in an already established sighting into the night rather than driving around looking for things…