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How to Use a Spotlight on a Self-drive Safari

When the sun sinks below the horizon, the daily activities of all things wild and wonderful slows down and the nightlife of the bush is wide awake and ready to rumble!

Sunset on a self-drive safari

Above: Sunset on a safari self-drive

Do I need a spotlight on a self-drive?

Leaving the safe confines of camp and departing on a self-drive excursion at dusk and after dark armed with a spotlight, will open up a whole new world and lay bare, even if ever so slightly, more of nature’s secrets. As this is when you are most likely to encounter rarely seen nocturnal species – leopard, aardvark, honey badger, bat-eared fox, spotted hyena, genet, civet, porcupine, pangolin, aardwolf, and more.

All excited just by the mere mention of these animals? Okay, calm down for a minute. Before you depart and venture out in diminishing light, there are a few things to take note of, even before you switch on that spotlight that will illuminate these creatures. Always remember that you are a visitor in the animals’ habitat and should thus treat them with the deserved respect, especially with a powerful spotlight in hand.

Spotlight etiquette 

Be responsible and direct the beam next to the animal, never directly on the animal, to provide just enough light to see or photograph it, without blinding it. Rather shine the light on a tree, leaves, grass or even water that can reflect it onto the animal. Keep in mind that it takes a human being up to 20 minutes to regain full night view vision, just imagine what it's like for the animal. Therefore, use your spotlight wisely and responsibly.

A lioness spotted on a self-drive safari

Above: a lioness spotted on a safari self-drive

Types of spotlights for a self-drive

There are a whole range of spotlights available at outdoor and camping stores.

A handheld model, plugged into your vehicles’ cigarette lighter, is a good option. Make sure however that it’s made of a lightweight material and is convenient to use, but nonetheless powerful. It can become very frustrating having to deal with a heavy arm on top of spotting the nightly beasts.

Some brands also have very powerful handheld torches that is sufficient enough to not only search around your camp site, but illuminate a bit further afield and when you are out on a self-drive safari. With adjustable light beams on a couple of them, what more can you ask for?

Those that know (aka the experts) are of the opinion that a Lumen output of between 100 and 300 should be more than enough to put the spotlight on your subject of choice. If you want to be extra careful to avoid shining any direct light into an animal’s eyes, there are also filters available to clip onto the front of some spotlights and hand held torches.

 Using a spotlight to view animals after dusk on a self-drive

Above: Driving out to view wildlife using a spotlight after dusk

Tips for using your spotlight

There are always some added advice and things to take notice of when you are viewing wild animals, whether with the sun as your illuminating power or using a man-made device:

  • Remain in your vehicle, especially at night!
  • Don’t be loud and scare the animals away, be quiet and you'll see more of them.
  • Keep a safe distance at all times.
  • If you go out at night, leave your itinerary with someone.
  • Avoid getting lost in the dark, take a GPS.

We're sure that now you'll know exactly what spotlight to purchase and how to best use it on your next self-drive safari. If you're planning a self-drive adventure into Africa, and learning about important elements of enjoying a safari is your kind of thing, then maybe doing a Field Guide course is something you'd be interested in. 


EcoTraining Title: Blog Contributor
Affiliation: Drive South Africa Blog

EcoTraining is a passionate environmentally-conscious company specialising in the training of nature-guides and those with a deep appreciation of the natural world. Courses are run in simple unfenced bush camps in the middle of great wilderness areas where participants get to truly experience what it is like to live in wild places.

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