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Soap Opera of the African Night

Last night a friend asked me what the nights were like in Africa. It is yet the best question I have been asked about my favorite travel destination.

Nights in the so-called civilized world can be scary because the human predators come out. Turn on morning news of any major city and you hear who was robbed, killed, car jacked, stabbed, shot and more the night before.

When sun sets in the Okavango Delta, Kruger National Park or the Serengeti the predators also come out, predators of a different kind.

Nothing is more welcome than the huffing sound of a pride of lions defining their territory vocally to other wandering feline as the sun sets. Or in pitch black hearing the distinct shortchanging pitch coming from hyena calling reinforcements to a potential meal. Once you get familiar with the sounds you can sit, listen and know with almost certainty what soap opera is playing out in front of you like a blind man reading braille.

The scene is dead quiet except for the cooing of a dove in the near tree and the crackling of what's left of the fire you cooked your meal on. A short distance away a baboon barks a loud warning to his troop, but not in time. One of the troop has been caught by the leopard; the whole troop is screaming in defiance and in fear. Then scrambling noises can be heard as the balance of the troop reposition in the tree. To the left of the original struggle the sound of heavy claws on bark as the leopard takes his kill up into a tree to keep it safe. It's quiet for a moment but I know the leopard has begun to eat the primate; first plucking the hair which falls to the base of the tree leaving clues. What are the rest of the baboons doing? The night does not divulge their fear and longing for their troop mate. It is only imagined.

The local clan of hyena have heard the commotion and smell the blood of the dead baboon. They call in a very distinct hum that starts at one pitch and ends in another. The sound travels great distances in the night. They could be very far, but your imagination hears them only an arm's length away.

Hyenas from miles around stop what they were doing to head to the scene to try to intimidate the leopard into dropping her meal. If you listen close, you can hear hyena coming from many directions. As they gather, they attempt to gang up on the leopard. But hyena don't climb, and leopards aren't easily intimidated so her meal is safe. All goes quiet again.

What drama will play out next in this dark night, with more stars shining down on the scene than spotlights of a Hollywood movie set? This is the mystery of the African night. And even though these very same predators could include you in their meal plan, the thought of these predators is not as scary as the human predators of the night in the civilized world.

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