Into the night – nocturnal life in the Kalahari
Day becomes night as the copper sun sets over the vast Kalahari. Long shadows stretch out before disappearing as the bush gets enveloped into an inky darkness. The glittering stars of the milky way become more apparent sending a message to those observing of the much greater picture of our solar system and galaxy. Our planet is tiny in the grand scheme of things yet so full of life itself. But there are worlds within our world that mostly go unseen. A realm that exists that comes to life in the darkness. A world that we rarely get to see and observe. A world adapted to little or no light. They are the nocturnal beings, mystical and magical under the milky way.
After dusk, our spotlight picks up the wide eyes of a Spotted Eagle Owl. Magnificent in stature and perched and poised for the hunt, these silent killers use adaptions suited for their survival. Acute vision and hearing easily picks up the tiniest of movement and sound that could betray an early meal. Further adaptions, like extremely soft feathers and thin hair-like structures on the flight feathers, dampen or eliminate sound allowing this aerial predator to attack and grasp unsuspecting prey using the element of surprise.
Yet another nocturnal, rarely seen by day, but frequently observed on night drives is the Small-Spotted Genet. Catlike and sleek, Genets will stay within a home range leaving scent marks to demarcate their place. Quick, agile and armed with brilliant night vision, they will seek out a meal of small mammals or insects but they are also known to eat bats, birds and scorpions. Genets are common but not always easy to see. Our spot lit night drives often pick them up just after dark as they move into the night on the hunt.
Time and timelessness have certainly produced some very interesting creatures. One that springs to mind and stands out is the Porcupine. These animals are actually large rodents and their name is derived from Latin meaning quilled pig. These herbivores are almost exclusively active at night and can sometimes be seen out looking for a meal of roots, tubors, bark and fruit. Predators beware of their sharp quills! This interesting adaption certainly works for protecting the animal. Small scales at the end of the quills serve as barbs which get lodged in their attacker’s skin. Leopards and Lions will think twice before trying to attack a Porcupine.
One of the most incredible sounds that will pierce the Kalahari darkness is that of calling Lions. Deep throaty roars will announce the presence of territorial males holding court. These calls ward off potential intruders into the pride land. Females within this territory will contact call too in order to locate the males or find the other females out on a hunt. To see Lions in darkness is an extraordinary feeling as their presence is both daunting and exciting and the Kalahari environment produces some of the largest Lions in Africa.
Daniel Crous has been lucky enough to call Botswana home for his entire life. His folks ran safari camps in the 80's and his early childhood was spent in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Life outdoors has always been his calling, safaris in Botswana are one of the purest forms of such a life. His Dad handed him his old film camera when he was about 12, documenting the wilderness around him has grown from passion to profession. He is equally passionate about the conservation of the land we live in and all of its creatures, including its people. He now takes extreme pleasure in leading others to some of the incredible experiences available here.