Day 2: Night Drive
I love night drives. I think they’re always the highlight of any visit to any national park. I’ve said this before, but it’s the only chance to see all the special animals that only come out at night, and it can never be missed. (Oh gosh, if I get this SANParks internship I’ve applied for, I have a whole year of night drives waiting for me!!!)
So at 6, it’s already dark and ten of us are loaded into the truck. I like to sit at the front near the driver. The drive started late as we had to return to the office because the driver didn’t have the right key to the gate. Slightly disappointed that they only use one spotlight in Addo, which is controlled by the ranger. I’m sure there’s a good reason for it though. But I do like operating spotlights…
We started off along the main fence, the spotlight bouncing off the impenetrable Spekboom. The bush is so dense I wonder what we can possibly be looking for out here. ‘It’s dead out here’, remarks the driver after twenty cold minutes.
I’m reminding myself why I love night drives so much. It’s not only the animals, it’s the chance to be out in the park in the dark and experience the atmosphere and the drama. Still awesome without animals. We carry along for nearly 45 minutes and the bush hasn’t turned up the slightest scrub hare. But it’s cold tonight, and I admit to myself that I’m a little bored. But then we turn onto the main road and the bush opens up. Before long we have our first sighting! Two ostriches. As the engine is killed, I sigh to myself. I’m so tired at this point, that I’m thinking up sarcastic, catty ways to write it up on my trip report. ‘Does that count as one sighting or two?’. However, the guide is excellent and decorates the ostriches with all kinds of cool facts, which make them into quite the exciting little sighting.
It’s after the ostriches, that the Kudus come pouring in. Hundreds and hundreds of them. The guide explains he’ll only stop at a Kudu once. However a ten year old girl on the truck starts screaming every time she catches sight of one. ‘Stop! Stop! You have to STOP NOW!’. After the tenth Kudu stop, the guide patiently explains that there are 2000 Kudu in the Park and we’re all guaranteed to see them up close tomorrow. She fell asleep after that. It’s too bad she did…
Because now we’re seeing Jackals. I love Jackals. The excitement builds when we hear them crying in the distance, in the direction of Domkrag. Have you all heard Jackals cry? The sound completely pierces you. It’s awesome. But they’re not alone. I’ve only heard hyenas on TV before this. So when we turn and head towards the commotion, I’m really, really excited. Unfortunately, this morning’s zebra family is on my mind. I have a terrible feeling that we’re hearing a zebra buffet feeding frenzy…
On the way to the hyenas, we see a big rain spider on the road and stop. The tourists go wild. I get the impression I’m the only person here who’s lived in South Africa, because I frequently find significantly bigger spiders in my bedroom.
When we reach the Domkrag Loop, the howling has stopped, and we’re left trying to find hyenas in the dark. Then we see them… the zebra family. They are still very much walking around, no predators in sight. This is where I learn from the ranger that the lion attack had been more than a week ago, despite looking so fresh. It’s a huge relief. Maybe the zebras will be okay after all.
We find jackals, but no hyenas. I’m now getting very cold and very tired, but I’m warmed and wakened by an Eland sighting. They’re far away (aren’t they always?) but the spotlight picks them up nicely. Eland are truly impressive. They’re HUGE. They can jump two meters high a standing position.
For me, the night drive is all about the Springhare. The Springhare is my night drive benchmark. I must see a Springhare for a night drive to be 100% fulfilling. Tonight it’s not until we turn back for camp that we see one. I’m thrilled! The Springhare is my favourite nocturnal animal. Hop, hop, hop, hop… The rest of the truck are unimpressed, but this is where my goofy smile returns and stays, and once again, I’m thankful no one can see me in the dark. I can sleep happy tonight.
As we near the gate the light picks up a scrub hare. A quick scan of the nearby ground reveals it’s being stalked. At first I think it’s a Jackal crouching low in the grass, then the guide announces, ‘Caracal!’. I nearly faint. Do you realize that in the past few months since I’ve learned that the WCNP has a lot of caracal, I go there about twice a week in the late afternoon hoping to see one? I went on night drives in the Karoo, desperate to spot a caracal. I’ve been completely fascinated with caracal this last year. I had hoped, but never expected I’d see my first caracal in Addo. I can feel myself getting all teary as we watch the caracal in front of us. I now have about five minutes of blurry, black video, but I know that somewhere in the darkness is my first caracal and nothing else matters.
Back at the main camp, we’re told the lions are at the waterhole. I head over there, but honestly, I’m not too interested. I’m guessing it’s this morning’s lions and I’m still mad at them and unwilling to give them my time. They’ve apparently walked behind a bush, but I’m excited and don’t want to sit and wait. Caracal, caracal, CARACAL!
Caracal! Caracal! Back by my tent, my eyes have been so accustomed to spotting Kudu in the dark, that near the bathrooms I mistake a man in shorts for a Kudu and get quite the fright. Caracal!
I can’t sleep because I keep looking at the one clear caracal photo my camera managed to take. (Caracal!) As I finally drift off, my elderly caravanning neighbours next door start playing loud pan pipe music which I soon recognize as the hits of Abba. Caracal! I fall asleep an hour later singing, ‘caracal, caracal, caracal, caracal….’, (in my head) to the tune of Mamma Mia. Try it; it’s really hard…