When it comes to wildlife, I have seen a lot of the usual suspects – plenty of the Big Five, the little critters, and everything in between. However, my recent trip to Zambia offered much more than the usual. In fact, it offered me an impressive amount of the unusual – the wildlife that is often much harder to spot. This is primarily because night drives are big in Zambia and your afternoon drive usually turns into a nocturnal activity, returning to camp between 7 and 8pm. You can be out after dusk every evening if you want, which opens up a whole different side to wildlife viewing.
My night safari experience in the Lower Zambezi
I recently returned from 14 nights in the incredible country of Zambia. I went wildlife viewing after sundown on each of those nights, and it did not disappoint! Prior to my trip, I had only ever encountered one civet and a couple of genets. My first night drive in the Lower Zambezi marked the start of things to come. I saw six civets, genet, nightjar, white-tailed mongoose, and two elephant shrews, not to mention the green sparkle of numerous impala eyes, elephants browsing through the night, and hippos strolling along the road.
The following night was even better. We had a superb female leopard sighting, and we sat with her as the sun went down. This was followed by a plethora of civets and genets, one after the other after the other… and we were even rewarded with my first aardvark sighting. Result!
Smaller spotted Genet, taken by: ex-safari guide Abi
My night safari experience in the South Luangwa
The South Luangwa was just as rewarding as the Lower Zambezi in terms of night drives. By the end of my trip, the number of genets and civets we saw had become a bit of a running joke, there were that many. White-tailed mongoose were also not shy, and of course being out at night meant far more opportunities to see leopard. I have never seen so many leopards in one trip – maybe it was just luck, but it was magnificent to have so many different sightings.
I really quenched my leopard thirst, from seeing stunning females posing by day to glimpsing numerous individuals stalking at night, and also hearing the rough ‘sawing’ call they make, as well as watching a male return to his kill in a tree during my stay at Tena Tena and of course lots of general lounging in trees and strolling down the road!
My top tip for night drives
My favourite area for night drives was around the Chiawa and Old Mondoro camps in the Lower Zambezi. The guides here are excellent and work really hard, but they also use a red filter on their spotlights for night drives, which I think is great. I much prefer spotting after dark with a red light rather than using a white light, as I personally find the latter quite disruptive and far too bright. You can see just as much with a red light, and it is far less invasive for the nocturnal animals trying to go about their business.
In sum, these night drives provide access to an alternative world – the wildlife you don’t usually see during the day becomes abundant. Every drive really was a treat, and I have gone from considering my civet, genet, and leopard sightings as just lucky to being over-run with memories of so many amazing viewings! For me, Zambia was all about the Unusual Suspects!
Interested in seeing some of these Unusual Suspects for yourself? To find out more about night drives in Zambia, check out other alternative properties for night safaris or just get in touch with a member of the YZ team.