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What to Expect from an Ethical Night Game Drive Safari

What to Expect from an Ethical Night Game Drive Safari

There are few things more hair-raising than the African wilderness after dark. Going on a night game drive can be both exhilarating and ethical as you observe nocturnal animals in their element. Your heart will be pounding from the thrill of the unknown the night brings. But not to fear your professional guide will help to ensure you are safe and the animals are respected while you discover some of the oddest of creatures after sunset. From my nighttime safari experiences, I was shocked at the species that can be observed. Secretive animals that prefer the darkness, like aardvarks or porcupines, are rarely observed during daytime game drives. Also, ethical night game drives give you the opportunity to spot the smaller African creatures like civets or elephant shrews. But sometimes the most magical moments from a night game drive come from simply switching off the jeep engine and listening to the wild chorus of the night!

Thrilling Night Game Drive: A Whole Different Kind of African Safari

Generally speaking, night game drives are similar to daytime activities while on safari. They involve a 4×4 vehicle, a professional guide, sometimes a spotter, and a handful of eager guests. But when it comes to the wildlife you will observe they are truly as different as night and day. Pun intended!

Night game drives are a whole experience on their own and completely different from a daytime safari. The biggest difference is that visibility is extremely limited during evening game drives. Besides the vehicle’s headlights, guides are often equipped with an animal-friendly red filter spotlight used to locate hidden wildlife. Many would expect to discover Africa’s largest animals in the evening since they should be easier to spot. But oftentimes night game drives are filled with surprising species like chameleons, bushbabies, leopards, or even grazing hippopotamuses. If luck is on your side, you might even be fortunate enough to catch the spectacle of a nocturnal hunt from a hungry lion pride.

Night game drives are a commonly offered activity at private concession areas but aren’t widely allowed throughout Africa’s National Parks. In most National Parks safari vehicles are required to be back to their camps by dark, with no evening activities allowed in the park. This limitation helps to protect wildlife, especially within popular National Parks with heavy daytime visitation. But some parks, like Kruger National Park in South Africa, do allow strictly monitored night game drives to occur on park property.

Night Game Drive from Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger National Park

During my time staying at Skukuza Rest Camp, located in the heart of Kruger National Park, I embarked on three different night game drives. Each drive lasted around three hours and left around dusk from the main camp area. The cost per drive was 285 South African Rand, about $18, and was about $10 cheaper than a sunrise or sunset game drive from Skukuza. Each of these night game drives was very different from one another. Just like with any wildlife adventure you are at the disposal of Mother Nature as to what sort of animals might appear. But for each drive I was floored by the species we spotted after dark. Over the course of these three different evenings, I saw aardvark, civet, spotted eagle owl, hyena, hippo, buffalo, and even black rhino. To learn more about some of these unique species read: 6 Odd Animals to See in Kruger National Park. I was ill-prepared for the diversity of wildlife that we would get to observe at night. And definitely didn’t have the skills to set up my poor old camera to shoot quality nighttime shots. So, I apologize for the extremely low quality of the images throughout this feature. But still, these shots perfectly remind me of the thrilling nighttime adventures I had in Kruger.

3 Tips For An Ethical Night Game Drive

1.) Finding the Right Animals: Remember that night game drives are intended to observe animals OF the night, NOT just any and ALL animals AT night. Meaning that guides differentiate between diurnal (active during the day) and nocturnal animals in order to know which ones should be observed. Diurnal animals can be irritated by lights at night, especially since this is the time of day when they are resting and staying vigilant for evening predators. It’s important to remember to avoid diurnal animals during night game drives and focus on the activity of nocturnal species!

2.) Bright Light: Seeing animals in pitch black conditions isn’t possible without some extra gear to help our human sight. Night game drives will use both vehicle headlights and spotlights to illuminate the darkness for better viewing. Spotlighting always needs to be approached in a sensitive way, to ensure that animal well-being is prioritized. For an ethical experience for all, leave it to the professionals to use the outer beams of these red filtered spotlights to create less disturbance to wildlife. Safari guides can identify species-specific behaviors, and make sure to move on if an animal is getting disturbed by the vehicle’s presence. For the most part, animals are habituated to ethical safari activities. But if a situation does arise that makes you feel as if the practices are no longer ethical, don’t be afraid to speak up and let your guide know.

3.) Dark Photos: Any photography in dark shooting conditions is challenging, let alone when you’re on a rumbling jeep trying to shoot moving subjects in the night…. Regardless of these challenges, I recommend avoiding the use of flash during night game drives. Not only will these bursts of light disrupt the other guests, but more importantly they disturb the animals – sometimes even frightening them. Instead, just make do with the light provided by your safari guide. The wellbeing of the animals should always take priority over you getting that flashy shot!

Making Sure You Are Ready For A Night Game Drive

After sunset, the African wilderness can get quite chilly. Make sure you bring along a warm layer, and maybe a hat and gloves to stay cozy. The last thing you want to worry about during your exhilarating night game drive is keeping your fingers warm during the adventure.

Here are a few takeaways to keep in mind for your ethical night game drive:

  • The well-being of the animals always comes first!
  • Leave the spotlighting to your professional guides.
  • Appreciate all sizes of wildlife you spot, from massive to tiny little creatures.  
  • Dress warmly for the chilly African evening.
  • Skip the flash and instead prepare your camera’s settings for evening shots.
  • Soak in the adventure of it all, and when the time is right just listen to the sounds of the night!

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