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Full Moon Safari: Night Game Drive Glowing Review

Unlike anything I’ve experienced before, a full moon safari was spectacularly hair-raising! In truth, the African wilderness after dark is an entirely different animal. Once the night sky blankets the landscape, your heart can’t help but beat faster. The thrill of what lies in the darkness takes over your senses. Evening safaris pull back the curtain of darkness and leave you feeling delightfully meek in the grandiose of Mother Nature.  

Herd of zebras at night on an airstrip in Kenya
Plains zebra herd seeking refuge on the wide-open airstrip in the darkness. (photo taken on iPhone 12 using Night Mode)

Why Venture on Safari at Night?

Void your assumptions that nighttime equates to nightmares. For an African safari in the night is far from bleak and haunting. Think of it as a full theatrical set change, where the cast of wild characters rearranges to take to the stage of darkness. Lethargic lions come alive and patrol their territory in search of intruders and feasts to prey on. Nighttime safaris can shock you with secretive animals that only emerge in the evening for their nighttime routines.

male lion walking in front of a jeep at night with the red spotlight glow
Lorna watching as a male lion walks in front of the vehicle.

A majority of my time on night safaris has been in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Scenes from those fruitful drives live rent-free in my memory, even a decade later. During those ventures, I luckily observed aardvark, civet, spotted eagle owl, and even black rhino near Skukuza Rest Camp. More recently my husband and I ventured on an evening game drive during our honeymoon safari while in Masai Mara National Reserve. There we were reminded of the goosebump sensation of being vibrated by the powerful roar of a male lion. Venturing on a safari into the night certainly gifted us the opportunity to absorb the African wilderness as it came alive in the evening! 

female safari guide watching hippos in the darkness
Lorna pulling the vehicle over to better observe the hippos grazing in the darkness. (photo taken on iPhone 12 using Night Mode)

Full Moon Glow on a Night Safari

What should have been a pitch-black drive through the Kenyan wilderness, instead was an illuminated scene of nature under the glow of a full moon. Typically, night safaris are entirely lit by a red filtered spotlight scanning the landscape. But in this case, our timing couldn’t have been better at &Beyond’s Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp as we enjoyed the evening under the bright moon. For this night safari near Masai Mara National Reserve, our visibility wasn’t limited by the darkness whatsoever. The true magic came from turning off the jeep and cutting the lights, allowing our eyes to adjust to the evening glow. After a few moments, our eyes discovered the grassland around us was easily seen without the help of a spotlight. The grasses were illuminated, granting us an easy view of the wildlife. During our adventure, my eyes caught a reflective glow lumbering through the plains. It took a moment to process, what the shining moving mound was. When in fact, it was hippos fresh out of the Mara River still dripping wet on their nocturnal graze through the darkness. If nothing else a safari under a full moon will certainly grant you a new perspective of the African wilderness you thought you knew.

red lit male lion drinking water during a night game drive safari
Male lion pausing for a drink in the evening.

Staying Safe During a Night Game Drive

Once again, I repeat, do not assume nighttime safari means nightmare safari. Trekking into the African wild after sunset is a perfectly practiced art when led by professional guides. These highly trained individuals ensure their guests are safe and that the animals are respected.

female safari guide driving a night game drive
The blur of adventure as Lorna drives our night safari.

Our intimate night drive with &Beyond was entirely private. In fact, my husband and I were pleasantly outnumbered by the staff in the vehicle. Behind the wheel was our fearless safari guide, Lorna, who led all our adventures within the Mara. Under her guidance, we were also joined by a skilled tracker and an additional guide. Unlike our daytime safaris with Lorna, this second guide was armed for our protection. Contrary to what you might assume, most activities on safari do not include an armed staff member. This safety measure is most common either on foot or after dark in the African wilderness.

Ethical Practices on Night Game Drives

Our ability to discover Kenya’s wildlife after dark was dependent on the private concession property that the &Beyond company owns. This private land surrounds their Bateleur Camp, Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, and the shared airstrip. The property borders the Masai Mara National Reserve and the Mara River, allowing wildlife to freely move about unrestricted. Like most other national parks throughout Africa, the Masai Mara National Reserve is strictly closed at sunset. This limitation helps to protect wildlife, allowing them to behave undisturbed throughout the night. Rules like this support wildlife within popular parks that host high volumes of daytime visitors. But as the other safari vehicles returned to their camps from the Mara, ours was able to instead venture into the private concession to continue exploring after dusk. This &Beyond property is one of the only places where guests can experience an ethical night game drive near the Masai Mara.

thomson gazelle under a full moon on a night game drive safari
Herd of Thomson gazelle seeking refuge on the wide open airstrip in the darkness.

3 Tips to Make Your Night Game Drive Ethical 

1.) Respecting wildlife is the top priority! Some species can be easily irritated by bright lights, especially since they are trying to rest and stay vigilant of predators. Instead, night drives should focus on observing nocturnal species that are active! 

2.) Leave the lighting to the professionals! For an ethical experience, leave it to the professionals to use the outer beams of their red filtered spotlights to create less disturbance to wildlife. Safari guides are highly trained to identify species-specific behaviors and will make sure to move on if an animal is getting disturbed by the vehicle’s presence. Generally, most animals are habituated to these ethical safari activities, often unphased by the company. But if something doesn’t feel right or makes you uncomfortable, be sure to speak up and let your guide know you want to partake in more ethical practices.  

3.) Skip the Flash! Bursts of light disturb the animals and can sometimes frighten them. Make do with taking darker, spotlight-lit photos with the help of your safari guide. The well-being of wildlife is far more important than the pictures you snap!

Night game drives can be both exhilarating and ethical as you observe nocturnal animals in their element. Be sure to soak in the adventure of it all, and when the time is right just listen to the sounds of the African night! Assuming you can hear past the pounding of your racing heart from the thrill of what the evening brings.  

Sunset over the Oloololo Escarpment of Masai Mara National Reserve.
Sunset over the Oloololo Escarpment of Masai Mara National Reserve.

Additional Resources for Your Safari:

red flashlight glow of a male lion walking on a night game drive safari
Adult male lion patrolling his territory as the sky darkens.

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