NIGHT GAME DRIVE SAFARIS IN AFRICA
Bundle Up For An Exciting Night Safari

Night game drive at Masai Mara National Reserve - Africa Kenya Safaris

Do you imagine all the wildlife safari action occurs only during the day? Not really. There is a nightly shift in the fields and forests you might not know about.

When the sun begins to fade and the familiar characteristics of the savanna and bush transform into a different sort of world, the air cools, the big cats come alive and new species emerge from their daytime hiding spots.

This is the domain of the African wilds at night, where up to 70 percent of the animals become active throughout the darkening landscapes prowling, hunting, and scavenging until the first light of dawn.

It is the time of the night safari – when the heat of the day dissipates and is replaced by gentle breezes, starlight, and the moon casting its cool shadows upon the land. With your safari guide in your 4 x 4 Jeep, you can move purposefully on the savannah or through the bush, until the lit eyes of a lion, leopard, or other night-prowling creature stare back at you through the inky dark.

Bundled up with your blanket and thermos, a night game drive can take on a feeling of tingling anticipation as the sounds of a big cat, a hippo, or the scurrying nearby of some unseen creature remind you to move quietly as you have entered their nocturnal realm.

Prepping for Your Night Game Drive

Night game drive - Africa Kenya Safaris
Big cat seen on a night safari

Your night safari can be a continuation of your daytime game drives. It can also occur after you’ve had a relaxing dinner or a sundowner – a traditional evening cocktail out in the field. As the sun’s final orange glow starts to fade you get ready for a different sort of after-dark experience.

Most night game drives begin between 7 and 9 pm and last about two hours.

We’ve already mentioned bringing a blanket and thermos to stay warm – even in equatorial Africa, the evening temperature can dip quite rapidly. By all means, bring insect repellent as these tiny pests also make their presence felt at night. And don’t forget your camera; you can successfully take photos on a night game drive and we’ll give you some tips below.

Another way to prepare is to be aware of the kinds of wildlife you’re most likely to encounter, so you’ll know where to look and how to identify them. Bright glowing eyes reflecting back at you are obvious but also look for moving shadows nearby, a clear sign of wildlife.

What Nighttime Wildlife You May See

As the last of the daylight disappears, you may hear an increase in the type and number of bird calls and the sounds of the wildlife stirring all about.

Many of the animals that wake with the moon differ from those you’ll see on a daylight game drive. Or, their behavior can be markedly different. Those lions or leopards seen napping during the hot daylight hours come alive in the cool air of the night.

The big cats are their most active during these hours and it’s exciting to see a pride of lions moving ahead in formation on a nighttime hunt. 

Your guide knows the best spots to find the wildlife during these after-hours and you may spot rhinos and elephants moving quietly and mysteriously through the moonlight.

Besides the larger nocturnal animals there is another world of smaller wildlife that comes alive during the hours from dusk to dawn. You might see little bushbabies leaping about, and unusual species like the aardvark, honey badger, porcupine, chameleons, tiny elephant shrews, and civets and genets – small, cat-like mammals.

Herd of elephants seen on a night safari drive
Buffalo seen on a night safari in Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Night game drive - Mara Naboisho Conservancy - Africa Kenya Safaris

Where Can I Go On Night Safaris?

You’ll need to do some advance prep to learn where night safaris are offered as most national parks don’t allow for game drives after dark. But we can help! Africa Kenya Safaris will create a night safari for you on many private reserves throughout the country.

Not far from Nairobi, you’ll find the versatile private park of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, home to all of Africa’s “Big Five” as well as the African wild dog and sanctuaries for rhinos and chimpanzees. The Conservancy is an excellent location for night game drives as it offers glimpses into its many prides of lions and leopards.

If you are staying at one of Kenya’s coastal resorts, you may want to visit Taita Hills Wildlife Conservancy for both day and nighttime safaris. The salt licks here are excellent spots to see nighttime wildlife and the nearby watering holes are softly lit to enhance your viewing.

A select group of private conservancies surrounding the Masa Mara National Reserve also offer excellent opportunities for night game drives. If you’re visiting the national reserve for daytime game viewing, we can extend your safari into the evening with a night game drive at the Mara North, Mara Naboisho, Mara Siana, Mara Triangle, or Olare Motorogi Conservancies.

Tips For Nighttime Photography

Night game drive at Masai Mara National Reserve - Africa Kenya Safaris

Although nighttime photography on the savannah and in the bush has its challenges, it’s not impossible, especially now with sensitive digital cameras and computer imaging software.

The only ambient light available on your night safari is what nature provided – from the stars and the moon. The animals aren’t used to bright lights which can frighten, confuse, and scare them off. Often your guide will use a spotlight to see the animals – fitted with a red filter which is softer and doesn’t have an adverse effect. The same goes for your photography – never use a flash when photographing wildlife at night.

So what are the workarounds to ensure you can get a decent image of that leopard overhead or a nearby grunting hippo?

Your camera has settings that will help gather the available light:

  • Adjust the sensitivity of your camera to an ISO of 1600 or more if possible.
  • Open the lens’ aperture as wide as it will allow, somewhere between 4.0 and 2.8.
  • Slow the shutter speed to 1/40 of a second.
  • Remember to turn off your flash.
  • And finally, you can push the visibility of the image and remove any red-eye with a photo editing program on your computer.

Using the above tips you should be able to create lasting photos of your nighttime game drive and proof that you were there, witnessing the mystery, the drama, and the incredible struggle for survival filling these darkened fields that only ends at the coming of the dawn.

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