Ngala “Night-Eye” Safari Experience

With new technology comes a new experience

I recently spent the weekend at Ngala Safari Lodge for my daughter’s 8th birthday. When we were there in May last year, we were privileged enough to see our first white lion. And for my husband who has often worked in areas where the white lion gene is present like the Timbavati and Ngala Private Game reserve, this was a bucket list experience for him.

On our return home in May, my daughter said she wants to go back to Ngala to see the white lion again for her birthday in February. And so we did!

Only now, I’m happy to report, there are 2 white lions in the same pride – The Birmingham Pride. The young male we saw in May 2019 is now 15 months old. His cousin, a female, is about 7 months old.

Young male on the left, female on the right

They were both looking a bit skinny, in fact the whole pride looked like they were short a meal or two, but that is probably due to the rainy season when food and water for the herbivores (their prey, obviously) is plentiful, so they are stronger and healthier, and very dispersed, making it harder for the lions to hunt.

Some of the Birmingham Pride

We saw this pride on the Friday evening only. Thankfully our ranger Fred made the right call to go and look for them on that drive, as they then moved further into a large block of land where it was difficult to track them. It was an amazing sighting of 14 lions (females and cubs) just lazing around and grooming each other at sunset.

Large female leopard sitting precariously after a large feast

That night we also managed to see a large female leopard panting heavily, and sitting extremely uncomfortably, in a tree with a small Impala lamb dangling from a branch not too far from her.

After the usual amazing dinner feast we spent some time with Amy, one of the managers, chatting about my job and some of the guests I will be sending Ngala’s way soon. The conversation diverted to game viewing and the discussion of the “Pangolin Experience” at Phinda.

The discussion then ventured on to the new “Night-Eye” Experience they offer at Phinda and Amy mentioned that Scott, the Night-Eye guy from @SafariFilmCrew, had just arrived back at Ngala and was looking at training a new camera man. So in all our excitement, she set it up for us, that on Saturday evening game drive, we would be the guinea pigs for this new adventure/experience, now being offered at Ngala as well.

The following morning was Sophie’s 8th birthday and from the moment we were woken up at 5 Am till the time she went to bed that night, she was spoiled with treats and loved with hugs and high fives by all the staff. Kid friendly &Beyond Lodges really are the best place to take your young family.

Hand washing station at our Pancake Stop (on the left) and delicious pancakes prepared in the middle of nowhere (on the right) – what a treat – pun intended 😉

During an epic little morning game drive, consisting mostly of wonderful birds and large general game sightings, we were surprised with a very special, delicious pancake stop in the middle of the bush for our little Sophie’s birthday.

Ground Hornbills partaking in their early morning vocalisations                                   Comb Duck

Fred dissecting a “fur ball” coughed up by a Bateleur Eagle containing termite ex-skeletons. The Bateleur Eagle – the culprit who almost hit us with his “termite ball”

On returning to the lodge we were too full to eat breakfast so went straight to the pool, where a young bull elephant joined us for a drink. We had such a wonderful leisurely day.

Bull Elephant joining us at the pool – a very common sight in winter especially

Before heading out on the evening drive Fred (our ranger) and Scott the Night-Eye guy briefed us on what we could expect from the experience. In the vehicle were 3 monitor screens placed in the middle of each row and a camera mounted on the dashboard, along with a mobile GoPro that Scott would use to get some interesting angles and footage of us in the vehicle.

The Night-Eye setup

Fred would conduct his game drive as per normal, with our tracker Wiseman on the front tracker seat. Scott would film as we went and the rest would be business as usual. Scott advised us that as part of the deal, he will be making a short 4/5 minute video of our game drive experience for our memories and to show family and friends.

We were told that the camera is a very high definition infrared camera with incredible zoom capabilities, and would be used to film all our wildlife sightings. Filming in vibrant colours during the day, it would be during the pitch black of night that the camera would really come into its own with crisp, clear black & white video that wouldn’t need any spotlight to view the animals.

The concept behind this type of camera is to witness the natural behavior of the animals, both nocturnal and diurnal, without them being disturbed by the spotlight that trackers use to find and follow their movements at night.

At &Beyond the guiding teams are at all times extremely respectful of the animals, especially at night where they use red filters on the spotlights so as not to affect the animal’s immediate vision. Wiseman, our tracker would still need to find the animals using the spotlight, but once they were found we could switch to the infrared camera in the darkness and watch the monitor screens to see the action.

Leopard photo take from the Night-Eye video

We started off slowly, with a scrub hare gnawing on a grass stalk, after that a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl (one of Ngala’s 10 “Star Birds”) and then a little herd of Impala. And what was so nice about watching the Impala was you could actually watch them at night. Normally the tracker turns off the spotlight when driving past all diurnal animals, then we just have to keep moving away from them so as not to disturb them with the light. But now with the infrared camera filming, with vehicle switched off and spotlight off, we could watch the impala clearly while behaving naturally in the darkness. A truly wonderful experience!

We searched for lions but to no avail. I just think that being able to follow lions at night while hunting must be a magical experience. Without the lions showing themselves to us, we drove back past the leopard we saw the previous night. She was still there, but feeding on the ground now. We managed to get a good view of her using the camera as she finished off the last morsels of the Impala lamb.

I can highly recommend doing the Night-Eye if you are staying at and &Beyond lodges that offer it. Arriving back at the camp we had another delicious dinner. The kids were exhausted after such an exciting day so hardly even ate before heading to bed.

On our last morning, Fred and Wiseman took us to an area we hadn’t yet seen. I got a really good feeling about this part of the reserve. It just looked so inviting to all animal species. It helped that we saw signs of animals everywhere too – buffalo, rhino, elephant, giraffe and kudu. Driving down towards a waterhole, Wiseman signaled to stop and got off the vehicle to inspect the tracks he had seen. There were a couple of lion tracks heading in the same direction as us.

With our excitement building we kept a keen eye out in the surrounding bush as we traversed slowly forward in the vehicle. All we needed to do was look straight ahead, because there, lying in the middle of the road was a young male lion.

Soon after spotting him, he got up and started walking away from us along the road calling softly. To our amazement a couple more even younger lions came out of the long grass and bushes in front of us to greet the young male and then we noticed an adult male walking towards him and things got a little edgy.

After sitting and watching for a couple of minutes, there were now 17 lions in total – Amazing! Amazing! Amazing! Secondly, there were now 2 large males, who definitely didn’t want this young male around – turns out he was one of the adult male’s offspring that had just recently been kicked out of the pride. Thirdly, the whole pride had been feeding on a buffalo they killed the night before, so even though they were all with full bellies, tensions were running a little high.

This recipe ensured there was grandstanding, territory marking and cowering done, all in a short space of time in perfect view of us. We were told that this was the break-away pride from the Birmingham pride we saw on the Friday. This made it 31 lions in the weekend. What a privilege.

For “Night-Eye” bookings get in touch with me and you can watch the full video below on my Instagram page.

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Tiffany Steyn

&Beyond Travel Specialist

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