When most people think of safari, they think of morning game drives into the African bush to observe the Big Five enjoying their first morning drink or kill. But what about the game that comes out when the sun sets and the stars sprinkle the velvety African sky?
Just as exciting as morning and afternoon game drives, a nighttime safari brings visitors into the mysterious bush to observe the fascinating creatures that come to life in the dark.
Below are some of the most interesting nocturnal (or partially nocturnal) animals to witness on a nighttime safari:
African civet: Because the African civet is only active just for a few dark hours before midnight, it can be quite rare to see these creatures on a nighttime safari. These animals, which are similar in facial appearance to the raccoon, have black spots along their dense fur coat, and stripes along their neck and tail.
The civet’s diet often includes eggs, birds, reptiles, insects, fruits, and small rodents. But they’re also known for eating a poisonous millipede, which can secrete a deathly dose of cyanide when it is digested. Luckily for the civet, they are usually not affected by the millipede’s cyanide because it is believed that the civets eat a certain kind of fruit that eliminates the affects of the cyanide.
Image above owned by and taken from the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve website
And, according to one of our favorite properties in South Africa, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, civets are also regarded as a valuable commodity for the perfume and coffee industries! Specifically, the civet produces a secretion from their anal glands that has a strong smell, which is used in perfume. The civet also lends its anal secretions to the coffee industry by consuming coffee berry beans. When the beans come out the other end they are then washed and ground to produce the Kopi Luwak coffee, which can be as expensive as $300 per pound! I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll skip the perfume and coffee . . .
Aardvark: The aardvark’s name was derived from the Afrikaans language to mean “earth pig.” This unique nocturnal creature has a long snout with large ears that stand straight up like a rabbit’s. They use their claws not only to dig burrows to sleep in during the hot days, but also for digging in search of termites—their favorite dietary staple. In fact, aardvarks love termites so much that they will travel miles during the night to search for the most populated termite mounds. Once an aardvark stumbles across a mound, it will stick its 12-inch, sticky tongue into the mounds to pull out termites.
Photograph above taken by Beverly Joubert, taken from the National Geographic website
Leopard: The leopard is a large, powerful cat (males can weigh up to 200 pounds and females up to 130 pounds) that lives everywhere from the dry deserts to the rainforests of Africa and parts of Asia. They move like liquid, achieving speeds of over 30 miles-per-hour over very short distances.
When hunting their prey, the leopard is undoubtedly fantastic at camouflaging itself before pouncing on its victim. The leopard is also extremely powerful, possessing the ability to drag an impala up into the high branches of a tree, keeping the kill safe from lion and hyena.
Leopards live in territories that they defend from members of the same sex, the size of these varies depending on the availability of food. A male’s territory can encompass a number of females; he will mate with them, leaving them to fill the role as parent.
Their role in ecology is of vital importance—there is an African fable that tells a story of a village that goes against the advice of their elders and kills a leopard that ate a calf. Soon the baboon population becomes so large and emboldened that they destroy the village’s crops and everyone starves.
Honey badger: Oh, the honey badger. Known as one of the most relentless and terrifying creatures in the African bush, the seemingly peaceful honey badger can kill a buffalo! But buffalo is by no means a staple in their diet; rather, the honey badger’s primary diet consists of small animals such as reptiles and birds, as well as poisonous snakes.
And another interesting tidbit from Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in South Africa is that the honey badger has a unique relationship with the Greater honeyguide bird, which locates beehives for the honey badger. The honey badger then sucks the honey from the hive and the Greater honeyguide then eats the leftover honeycomb!
Below is a video of a honey badger taken by Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve:
Pangolin: The rare and endangered toothless pangolin is one of my favorite creatures to see on a nighttime game drive! With thick armored scales around their entire body, long claws, a slender snout, and a nearly endless tongue, the pangolin is quite a bizarre looking mammal! Similar to the aardvark, the pangolin uses its long, sticky tongue to extract termites from their mounds.
Image above taken from the African Wildlife Foundation website
Aardwolf: Part of the hyena family, the Aardwolf has longer front legs than hind legs, a back mane, and vertical and diagonal stripes along its body. Although their appearance is similar to the hyena, they have several differences, including their diet. Unlike the hyena, which is a scavenger, the aardwolf eats mainly insects. One of their favorite foods is the termite. In fact, they can eat up to 200,000 termites in one night!
Image above taken from the BBC News website