I’ve often tried to imagine what happens in the wilderness after dark. Once all of the safari vehicles have returned to their respective lodges, the humans (excluding those brave anti-poaching ones) have retired for the evening and the reserve is cloaked in darkness, what exactly do the animals get up to?
Each night, back in the luxury of my safari suite, I only ever close the sliding screen doors when I sleep, not the glass ones, so that I can drift off listening to the night sounds, from roaring lions and whooping hyenas, to the seemingly murderous cries of the tree hyrax and bushbabies.
Heading out eagerly the next morning, it’s always fascinating to watch your expert guide and eagle-eyed tracker delve into an exciting game of detective. While the rest of us not-so-morning people on the vehicle are still waking up, the observant khaki-clad duo is constantly on the lookout for any fresh tracks and visible (or audible) clues that can be pieced together to decipher the untold mysteries of the night before.
But what if you could actually be a fly on the wall, so to speak, amidst the night-time action itself? What if you could somehow conceal yourself, as if by invisible cloak with the added benefit of night vision, in order to witness first-hand exactly how the animals behave and interact when no one is watching? Well, thanks to the Safari Film Crew team and their specialised infra-red technology, safari enthusiasts visiting &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa can now do just that.
Available as an additional and highly recommended enhanced safari experience for Phinda guests, our exciting new &Beyond Night Eye experience enables wildlife lovers to, quite literally, see what lies beyond after dark.
This really is a safari game changer that essentially gives safari goers night vision and a rare and wonderful opportunity to see what truly goes on after sunset. The &Beyond Night Eye Experience includes the use of a private safari vehicle that is accompanied by a dedicated guide, tracker and professional camera operator. The specialised and unobtrusive photographic rig itself consists of a high definition infra-red camera that is mounted at the passenger seat behind the tracker, and is connected to three separate high definition monitors (one mounted on each row of the vehicle) giving each guest a clear view of the real-time action that is unfolding around them.
Photographers need not worry about this eating into their precious photographic time. The Night Eye experience departs at exactly the same time as the normal afternoon drive, allowing photographers to make the most of the afternoon light before the night life emerges. Of course one of the other &Beyond safari game changers is the complimentary use of a pair of Swarovski binoculars (per suite) for the duration of your safari. These world-class binos, coupled with the specialised Night Eye camera and monitors, give the daytime portion of this safari a definite edge.
The Night Eye camera has a zoom that is twice as powerful as the average pair of binoculars, meaning that the camera operator can zoom into specific details of each animal (or tree, flower, landscape, you name it) that cannot be seen by the naked eye, or even a pair of binos. While the sun was still out on my particular Night Eye experience, we sat watching an old male giraffe. As the guide pointed out and explained various features of this towering old gent, the camera was able to zoom into the most minute of details. We were all surprised to see a single tear roll down his cheek, something I’d certainly never seen before.
We were fortunate to spend an hour with a black rhino mother and calf that were concealed in the dense thicket. Although the animals were well hidden and visual was not great for photography, with the video camera, we were still able to zoom in to watch as an oxpecker pecked away at the ticks on the mother’s ear and see a swarm of flies hovering over her back.
We could appreciate (and photograph) each particular sighting as we normally would with our eyes, cameras and binoculars, but the video camera allowed an extra level of detail to accompany the guide’s commentary and encyclopaedic knowledge. We zoomed in on battle scars and wounds. We observed ear notchings on rhinos (a conservation practice used to identify rhinos for monitoring purposes whereby a small triangle of skin is cut from the ear and each cut mark has a corresponding numeric value) as our guide talked about the poaching crisis.
We watched hammerkops skimming the water for frogs, a nyala chewing on some bones, and we even zoomed in to see the deep amber of an elephant’s eye and its enviable long, thick lashes. Later, as the sun gently set, we observed two monkeys sitting quietly in a tree, also seemingly enjoying the sun’s dramatic performance.
After a well-deserved sundowner to celebrate that glorious African sunset, that’s when the Night Eye action really got underway. With predators such as lion, leopard and hyena preferring to do most of their hunting after dark, this is the overarching benefit of the Night Eye experience. As the tracker scans the horizon with his spotlight, the camera operator switches over to infra-red and the mysteries of the night are revealed.
When you do come across a sighting, the guide is able to switch off the vehicle engine completely, and headlights too, so that you are surrounded in complete darkness … and silence. With nothing but the gentle green glow of the three small monitors, you and the vehicle are now unnoticeable to the animals and you can actually see them visibly relax and continue about their business as if no one is watching.
First we positioned ourselves near a large pod of playful, and rather vocal, hippos splashing and cavorting as dusk descended. Some of them slowly emerged from the water for their nightly forage. We carried on with our night safari, spotting several scrub hares along the way and zoomed in on the blood vessels of their enormous ears. We watched a white-tailed mongoose happily scavenging for insects and, much to everyone’s astonishment, our tracker located the tiniest baby chameleon wrapped around a branch and we were able to zoom in without disturbing it to see the symmetrical curl of its tail.
The undeniable grand finale, however, was locating a pride of hungry lions that were feeding on a zebra kill. With no lights or engine hum, we listened to the fierce tearing of skin, the cracking of bones and the frenzied growls as the cubs competed for their fair share. True nature was revealing itself right before our eyes. To be able to sit amidst this surround sound drama and actually have a close-up visual of what was happening, made it a night to remember.
Once I was back in Johannesburg, hanging onto the now distant memories of my adventure-filled week at Phinda, I received this personalised highlight reel of my &Beyond Night Eye experience from the Safari Film Crew. Every guest that joins the Night Eye experience will receive a souvenir video so that they can relive their safari after dark, over and over. I know I certainly will.