This is my entry for J in the A to Z Challenge.
I first thought I saw one on my second safari. It was August 2011, we were on a night drive. There were 7 of us in the back of the jeep, our driver Milton, and the spotter, Joostie, sat on a seat on the front of the car. Joostie had the spotlight out. Once the sun goes down in Africa, the darkness folds over the land like the lid of an envelope. It kind of seals everything under it. Joostie held the spotlight in his right hand, scanning the bushes on either side of us and aiming it up into the treetops as we bounced along the dirt tracks that guided us deeper into the bush. I say deeper. We could have been on the way back to the lodge for all I know. We had circled, turned, rose up hills, down into river valleys, and just about rolled over for nearing four hours when we stopped, Joostie’s light firmly on the fork of a large tree to our left.
“Bushbaby.” He smiled. We all strained to see it. When I finally focussed on it all I saw was a tail. A tail that quickly vanished through the air towards another tree.
And there began my fascination with the bushbaby.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014. Summer for me. South African winter. August again, as this is my favourite time to go. Less leaves to hide the animals. No mosquitoes either; always a bonus as far as I’m concerned. Another night drive, another chance to see a bushbaby. I saw three that night. Or parts of three. I saw tails. I saw a body bounding into darkness with giant hops across the grass away from the jeep; but I never saw a face. I wanted to see a face. I needed to see a face. These things could have the most hideous face one could ever see, all fangs and overbite and big bulbous red eyes with puss dripping from their four nostrilled noses, but I wanted to see one and look him in the eyes. Getting him on film would be even better. Yet he alluded me again. And again. And again. And, well, you know, you get the point.
August 2015. My safari is upon me again. Six days inside the Klaserie Private Reserve. It shares an unfenced border with Kruger National Park allowing animals the freedom of movement. This time I’ll have six night drives to contend with. Six chances to see and photograph the face of a bushbaby. I am determined. It can be done. I’ve armed myself with a new toy, a Tamron 150-600mm mega zoom lens. It weighs about eight times what a bushbaby does, but I’m not concerned about that.
Our first night provides nothing, save elephants, rhinos, and a couple of lionesses at dusk. Who cares about that stuff, right? A bushbaby or two are seen, but not for long. I can sense already this will be a long safari. Can you feel my pessimism from wherever in the world you are? No? Then I’m not doing a good enough job writing this. Despite being only about 7″ long as an adult (body length ladies), the bushbaby can leap up to 20 foot in one go. How about that Olympians?
I love the night drive. I love using the spotlights to search for things you normally wouldn’t get to see. Most of the obscure animals in the bush are nocturnal, and lions and leopards will usually hunt at night as it is cooler and darkness provides the perfect camouflage for them. But most of the creatures you’re likely to see at night are extremely skittish and don’t like to sit around for too long. The longer they stay in one place, the more of a target they become for something bigger and hungrier. That’s just the way Africa is.
Fourth night now. I have seen glimpses of bushbabies all nights, but that elusive face is still haunting me. In what would turn into one of my best ever safari experiences (more on this at a later letter post), the night concluded an epic day. Earlier that day I had one of my best lion experiences ever. We left our tracker on the road, without a weapon, to track wild dogs (sadly they eluded him), and I didn’t think I could top the morning drive. But as we wound our way along the dirt, the spotlight blinked past a tree and Luan, our guide stopped. Something bright was shining back at him. We all looked at where he had the spotlight focussed. Sitting on a branch, near the fork of the tree, was a bushbaby. We were close enough to see it with our own eyes. My camera shot up, hands steadied, and I snapped off a couple of photos as quickly and calmly as I could. Hopefully I had adjusted the settings on my camera enough to get a clear shot. See for yourselves:I had done it. I had managed to see the face of a bushbaby. And he wasn’t hideous at all. Not even close. He was every bit as adorable as I thought he would be. Part Gremlin, part supermodel. Content that this safari had been a massive success, I put my camera down and watched him. These guys can and will hide anywhere. Later that night we saw another one cover about 50 metres in distance in all of four hops. These things are amazingly agile. And last July, while on another safari (sensing a theme with my preferred holiday destination?), one of the lodges we were at had a resident bushbaby that not only was comfortable with people, but he would let some of them touch him. I was one of those people. Others were disgusted by the fact it was an animal.
The bushbaby – one of the smallest animals in the African bush, but definitely one of my all-time favourites.