Back in 2000, Sheri and I went on our first African safari in South Africa’s Timbavati Reserve. To be honest, in the days leading up to our departure, I can’t say we were particularly excited about our upcoming trip. In retrospect, I think our lack of enthusiasm, in part at least, came down to all the wildlife documentaries we’d grown up watching on TV. Documentaries which made us feel a little like we’d already traveled deep into the African bush. Strange as it may sound, I guess you might say it felt like we’d already been there / done that.

That quickly changed, however, when we arrived at King’s Camp. It’s been 17 years since we setoff into the African bush on our first game drive and I still remember it perfectly. I recall the warm, late afternoon sun, which cast the surrounding bush in picture perfect light. I recall bouncing along a sandy track in an open-air Land Rover complete with rifle mounted on the dash. I recall our tracker signaling the driver to go this way or that as we followed fresh animal tracks through dense forests. I recall seeing elephants, giraffe, impala, and hyenas for the first time. I recall spotting a leopard perched high in a tree with a fresh impala kill. And I recall that same leopard sauntering through camp just as we sat down for our first South African braai.

But of all I remember about that day, what I remember most was the call of the wild. The high-pitched screams, intimidating barks, and chaotic rustling of foliage as a noisy troop of baboons crashed through the treetops. The splintering crack as an elephant used brute force to push over an impossibly large tree. The crunching of bone as a leopard devoured his kill. The den of insects. The unsettling roaring of lions somewhere off in the darkness, which made us nervous to go to the toilet during the night.

It’s sound that gives wild Africa its life and punctuates the profound difference between going on safari and watching it on TV. A poetic symphony of nature that gives Africa’s already vibrant bush its technicolor. And at no time is Africa’s bush more vibrant than at night. At night wild Africa truly comes to life. As the sun goes down, it’s as if someone dials the volume up until the call of the wild becomes so vivid our imaginations run wild, filling in what our eyes can no longer see.

This post is about nighttime in the bush and the sounds that accompany camping among lions, hyenas, elephants, and hippos. We recorded the following audio and video clips while on safari in Botswana last October. If you’ve been on safari, I hope our post drums up the same nostalgic memories that beckon us back into the African bush again and again. And if you haven’t, hopefully it provides a glimpse into what’s so special about wild Africa and why the best way to discover the bush is to go on a safari vs. watching one on TV.

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