Day 3: Mata Mata Night Drive
I had hoped we wouldn’t spend all our time watching the lion at 14th sleep…
While we waited to depart, CS and I walked over to the Namibian border. Being a huge dork, I had to put my hand in. CS chickened out.
We took seats on the truck right behind the driver and guide. I like being able to talk to them during drives. Also, sometimes, you can benefit from their heater by doing this…
John would be our guide. He also guided my MM drive back in October when I was with my parents.
John got onto the truck with two spotlights. ‘Who would like to use the lights?’ My hand shot up. In my head I was yelling, ‘mememememememe!’, but on the outside, I was pretending to be cool. Unfortunately, I was sitting behind John and he couldn’t see my hand. I can’t not do a spotlight. One person volunteered reluctantly and another got volunteered by a friend, despite not wanting to do it. No spotlight for Moose.
We stopped at KTC to watch the sunset and to look at tracks in the bright red dunes. I jumped at the chance to ask John about Skinny. He said Skinny was doing great, had been collared and his territory was between Mata Mata and Craig Lockhart. I was thrilled, but John’s hesitation made me feel like he might have been lying to avoid telling a little girl that her cheetah had died. John also told us our ‘mystery cat’, was definitely an AWC.
Once the sun had set, we set off in the dark. It got cold very quickly. The spotlight operators hadn’t turned on their lights, despite it being completely dark. This carried on for a good 20 minutes before John finally said, ‘We need the lights’. Unfortunately, John hadn’t given any instructions on how to use the lights, so both lights came on, fixed themselves towards the front of the truck (so they illuminated the spaces that the truck’s headlights already illuminated), and they didn’t move... except when a spotlight guy would get bored and simply turn off his light. I kept wanting to shout back that I’d be happy to take over if anyone was cold. It was frustrating, and predictably, we saw nothing.
We passed lots and lots of exciting eyeshine, which the lights never followed. We went straight for the lion, and got a wonderful surprise when we got there. I had said I didn’t want to watch lions on this night drive, but I take it back!
It didn’t take long to see her two cubs. John said they must be less than a month old. They were tiny. Mom sat in the same position she’d been in that morning, while the cubs played on (and in) the carcass. The jackals were still around, and mom wasn’t happy with them. After a few minutes she charged one. Lions can RUN! It was intense. The jackal got the message.
Less than 30 seconds after leaving mom with her cubs, we came across a Brown Hyena drinking at 14th- wow! It was magical. For me, that blew the lion sighting away.
We watched as the Brownie took cover in the long grass.
I’m glad we sat up front. It got very cold after a while. The spotlights were rarely on and animals kept running in to the road, without John saying anything. CS and I got to see Cape Hares, AWC, Cape fox, and an Eagle Owl. Only the Owl was announced. One of the spotters finally found something- Spring Hare!
Spring Hares are my favourite nocturnal animal. A night drive just isn’t a night drive without Spring Hares and the whole, ‘it’s actually NOT related to a kangaroo’ speech that always accompanies the sighting. But this time, no speech. The spot guy just asked, ‘what are those rabbits? They’re everywhere’. ‘Springhare’, replied John. ‘Oh’. And we drove on. John is a great guy, but there was no information and education on this night drive, and that was disappointing.
When we passed the sign telling us Mata Mata was 20kms away, I was freezing. My layers weren’t enough and my feet were hopelessly cold. I vowed on the next night drive, I’d have a sleeping bag and a hot water bottle, but that wasn’t going to help me now with 20kms to go.
As we reached Mata Mata, I was having a quiet little cry about my feet (drama queen). Nothing could cheer me up… except… another Brown Hyena! It was beautiful. How quickly you forget about being cold. I jumped up and watched as the hyena ran down the road, the truck following it. It didn’t seem to be able to figure out it needed to get off the road, and we followed it all the way back to camp. I felt bad- that must have been pretty stressful.
When we got back to MM, I was buzzing from the Brown Hyena. The sightings board revealed that while were out, the waterhole at Mata Mata had been visited by a Brown Hyena (probably the same one) and by a cheetah (Skinny??).
In all, some fantastic moments on this drive, but it was brought down by the bad spotlighting and by our guide’s silence. But, Nossob tomorrow…. And more night drives to come!...