Ngorongoro Stories and Tips

Camping in Terror – the African Bush at Night

The elephant eventually moves off Photo, Ngorongoro, Tanzania

On the third night camping in Kenya I had a nightmare..

Fears had permeated my unconscious as I imagined that something was moving around my tent. The creature shuffled close to the ground and my blood froze as it started to put its nose against the canvas. I turned on my torch and there was an unmistakeable silhouette of a burly hyena – probably a female as they are the most muscular. And to my horror it had found a hole in my canvas and was nuzzling its way in.

I hit it with my plastic torch. In the flickering light I could see the creature back off. Then it tried again and I carried on whacking it until it had had enough and retreated into the darkness. I was sweating with fear.

Then I woke up.

And there were real life hyena yowls around me.


They were probably miles away but the sound travelled and I felt sick with fear. I was already freaked out by the nightmare but to wake up and there are real hyenas out there in the darkness gave an extra measure of terror. I activated my real torch – shone it at the zippered entrance and reassured myself. Nothing that travels on four paws can really get in here.

But the nightmare was an example of how the sounds of the African bush can get inside you. Immediately as night falls the sounds start up. Our Maasai guide told us that hyenas are far more frightened of you then they are of them and lions have not attacked anyone in a camp since 1965. But to hear them out in the darkness evokes some primeval fear of man versus predator. There are animals out there who will regard you as prey. Your body is food for them.

Of course alot of this is down to imagination. If you have an overactive imagination such as I then the mind works against you and you can imagine all sorts going on out in the darkness. In the Masai Mara our campsite was not far from the park boundary with just a small stream separating us from the herds on the savannah. And the sound did travel – we heard at night the lowing of wildebeest and the whinnying of zebras. Not to mention the roaring of lions. That is a sound you don’t forget – it’s a deep throated bellow that goes on for minutes.

My first night in the Mara was the most traumatic. I’ll admit I scared myself – but that is not hard to do. When I was sitting around the campfire the first yowls of the hyenas reached me. For a city boy who only has to worry about well, nothing really – not even foxes – this chilled my marrow. Bedding down in a small flimsy tent is just as unnerving. After all you have a zipper and a piece of canvas separating from what is outside. Even the sound of the wind moving nearby branches or the creaking of your tent in wind takes on another dimension in the African night.

You can’t really leave your tent – what’s more you don’t want to leave your tent. But the call of nature forces you to do so, so you blunder around looking for your torch and then wriggle out of your tent. Then a nerve-racking walk to the toilet block praying that there are no snakes between you and it and that no animals has decided to visit the stalls/urinals in the night.

We did have a Maasai guard at the Mara camp that did alot to put my mind at ease. We also had serious visitors as well as an elephant munched the grass 50ft away. The Maasai watched him all night although what a Maasai could do with just a spear against an elephant creating a nuisance I don’t know.

While at the Serengeti I had the usual night sounds and heard the rasp of a leopard (that is a really creepy sound) I hit on the idea of using an empty mineral water bottle during the night instead of leaving the tent. Once that zip was down I wasn’t going to leave its confines.

This was borne out at Ngorongoro when a massive commotion woke us up in the middle of the night and grunting could be heard. At first I thought it was buffalo but then I heard crashing sounds and our guides voices raised in alarm. A troop of bush pigs had invaded the camp and were intent on ransacking our kitchen. They were making a tremendous racket and twanged the guy ropes of my tent making it wobble. They were huge brutes about four foot long and regularly raid the campsite at night. Only when our guide and cook chased them away did they finally leave us alone.

Camping in Africa is a challenge for a person with a nervous disposition and a furtive imagination. But where else do you feature such excitement? In a luxury lodge you are protected from the wild nature of the African night. And that’s really what you came to Africa to experience – to get thrills, experiences and not a little terror.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip