Written by Kelsea Lee for Time + Tide Africa – Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa
For many safari goers, sighting the elusive nocturnal species presents the greatest sense of satisfaction. It’s the luck of the draw, but there’s a real sense of accomplishment when you happen to cross paths with one of these denizens of the dark. As your guide’s spotlight passes over those telltale porcupine quills or the elongated snout of an aardvark, it’s thrilling in a way that a daytime sighting just isn’t. They’re not creatures of the same world as you. They thrive in the inky blackness of night and find no pleasure in stretching out in the sunshine for a midday nap. They’d much rather greet the day long after the sun has sunk below the horizon and the colour has faded from the land.
Part of the challenge with spotting nocturnal wildlife is that we’re asleep during their most active hours. But what if there was a way to see these mysterious creatures without having to stay up ridiculously late or without even having to go on a game drive? Look no further than the new Chongwe wildlife hide.
Overlooking a naturally created waterhole, the hide is the perfect place to wait for some once-in-a-lifetime nocturnal sightings. After finishing dessert, head over to the hide and settle onto one of the comfortable stools – don’t forget to adjust your camera settings.
You peer into the darkness, listening to the impossibly loud croaking frogs and chirping insects. From beneath the cacophony, a shuffling, grunting noise emerges. Something is out there. But what? It’s pitch black and you can’t see anything. “Get ready”, your guide will say. You steady your camera, aiming it into the wall of darkness outside the hide.
He quickly flicks on the powerful spotlight, flooding the waterhole with yellowy light and illuminating the owner of the shuffling grunts.
It’s a porcupine!
No, wait – it’s two porcupines!
And they’re fending off a hyena!
The porcupines face each other, their snouts nearly touching so their black and white quills form a protective barrier. They rotate in a tight circle, constantly manoeuvring to fend of the hyena’s advances. The porcupines grunt indignantly and the hyena has a bemused look on his face. What a sighting! Cameras click and flashes go off, capturing each rare moment in time. Afterwards you flip through them, choosing your favourites and commending your fellow photographers on their snaps.
The daytime sightings have been fantastic too. Big herds of elephants regularly stop by for an afternoon drink, and there’s no end of antics with the warthog, impala, waterbuck and baboons that hang around. Designed to look like a termite mound, it is spacious and comfortable inside. Soft lounge chairs are available for downtime between sightings, or for those less inclined who just want to relax with a drink in hand while their companions take photographs.
Though it’s brand new, the Chongwe hide is already proving itself a worthy part of any safari experience. Nearly every night there have been porcupine sightings – who knows what else the bush will serve up next.