Things that go Bump in the Night
By Gabriel Feinman-Riordan (College of the Atlantic)
As child I was very aware of the things that went ‘bump’ in the night. There was the boogeyman in my bedroom closet, the spooky owl outside my window, and the giant dinosaur that would barge into my sleeping mind and swallow me whole. As I got older the night was tamed and I could go to sleep without fear of being tormented by the creatures of my dreams. While I now enjoy the peaceful dreams, safe from monsters and dinosaurs, I also miss my childhood fantasies that merged with reality and brought magic into my world. Being here in Botswana I realize that the magic was never lost but just waiting for me to find it…
Here in the Sub-Saharan Africa there is a higher concentration of large predators than anywhere on earth and every time I get a chance to see them it feels as if I’ve stepped into another world. From the very beginning we were exposed to these incredible creatures; one of the first noises we heard out here was the call of the lion. Contrary to what many people expect, lions rarely “roar.” Their calls are much more subtle and sound almost like a groan. This sound has become a regular piece to our nighttime lullaby and fills my body with the thrilling sensation of being in a land dominated by giant cats we like to call ‘the king of the jungle.’
Due to car troubles, our move from Camp Mababe to our last campsite (Camp Dipiri) took place in the evening, and on the way we were lucky enough to see a pack of six lions crossing the road. There were 5 adult females and 2 cubs and each lion seemed to be bustling with energy. The little ones played with each other and the mothers seemed poised and ready for action. This was our largest lion sighting to date and the wonder of seeing this large pack turned the land into an ancient savannah of the Pleistocene where man was but another animal in world much larger than him.
Another thrilling instrument that plays along in the nighttime orchestra is the call of the hyena. Their loud cackles and howls travel for miles and always seem to come from just around the neighboring acacia. Camp Dipiri, which means “camp hyena” in Setswana, was particularly noisy. As the name suggests, our campsite was situated close to a hyena den and made for very wondrous nights. One such night a large hyena decided to stroll through camp sniff the corner of our tent. My tent mate and I were fast asleep and did not wake up, but seeing the tracks the next morning was such a thrill that I could barely keep still through our morning routine and lecture. Aside from being an exciting component to our camp the den offered us incredible opportunities to observe the hyenas. We were able to use a handful of camera traps to aid in our observations of the hyenas. The images we obtained were able to provide us with information on their behavioral traits. The most interesting find from the pictures was the cohabitation between the hyenas and a porcupine, something we would never have discovered without the camera traps.
There are other monsters of the savannah are the less prominent but as equally incredible. Scorpions of the Delta are creatures that look like they evolved on the moon and found their way to down to earth. To add to their alien characteristics, these creatures have the eerie ability to glow when put under a blacklight. Luckily we were able to acquire two blacklights in town (see above photo) and have been finding a truly incredible amount of scorpions.
Another incredible piece of this magical world is the unparalleled beauty of the night sky. It is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, not only because of the unfamiliar constellations, but because of the unbelievable clarity. All these experiences have helped to bring the magic back into my world, something I’ll be sure to never lose track of again.