Things that go bump in the night

It gets dark quickly in Africa. The sun sets about 5:40pm, the sky glows yellow, then orange and finally red, with smudges of smoky clouds over the horizon by 6pm. And by 6:10pm it is pitch black. I had been invited out to dinner, so at 7pm I locked my front door and started up the engine of my blue twin cabin pickup. I reversed out of the makeshift carport and felt the front driver’s side wheel bump twice. This was my second flat tyre in ten days. The first tyre had worn away the inside tread, making steering difficult over uneven gravel roads at 60kph. The puncture was in the wall of the tyre, however. I had replaced it with an equally dodgy spare tyre and this was as flat as a pancake.


I live in an area adjacent to the National Park called the Game Management Zone, where wild animals co-exist with humans, but without strict protection. For the past three nights I have heard a lion roaring. This is not like the noise made by the lion which roars at the beginning of old films. It is more like a deep growling, almost like a comedy sound effect of water going down a drain. It is unmistakable once you have heard it.

Recently I have heard a strange screeching noise, followed by a fainter response. I don’t know what this is, perhaps an owl. Not the twit-twoo call, but more like a little owl’s screech.

I have also heard hyenas yelping close by. They make a high-pitched “yooo-up” cry, not like a laugh at all. Hippos make low pitched grunting noises, but elephants make the deepest sound, so low that you feel its vibration as well as hear it. Apparently they make this noise to communicate with other elephants over a kilometre away. When they are not communicating, they are tearing branches from trees, another distinctive sound. Two nights ago, I heard a furious, frantic yelping  from wild dogs in the dried out lagoon two hundred metres from my home. They make this sound when “psyching” themselves up to go on a hunt.


Leopards make a coughing noise, but I haven’t heard this very often. At 8:30 this evening, coming home from visiting a sick tourist, the lights of my truck picked out a beautiful leopard as it slipped across the track. I cut the engine and turned off the headlights, opened the passenger window and shone my torch over the bush to see if I could catch its eyes. It was obviously moving away from me so there was no reflection from its choroid/retina. I have heard of big cats attacking passengers of motor cars through open windows, so I closed it promptly. I was only 100 metres from my home.

So I was not about to grovel about under the vehicle, trying to place a concrete block below the chassis jack point (because my bottle jack is too short) at 7:15pm with all my noisy neighbours making me fully aware of their presence. The host of the barbecue dinner telephoned me and offered to come out and pick me up, then to drop me back at home after I had eaten, but I felt it was too much trouble. I was supposed to be joining a photoshoot in the Park the following day, starting at 6am, so I needed to rest if I was going to change the tyre at dawn. Fortunately, I found that a colleague in the next camp was going to the same event. He offered me a lift if I could get there by 5:45am, so I walked warily along the track to Kapani workshop, flashing my torch from side to side, but I saw no gleaming eyes in the gloaming.


PS Four punctures in ten days, in two tyres = new tyres needed. I am driving my old car, Phyllis, until they are available. The steering is slack, the suspension is shot, but it feels like putting on a comfortable, old shoe again.

By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.


    1. Yes, I always use a flashlight to check when I am walking around outside the house at night. The appear on a trail at night in the bush when you turn a corner in the pickup and have to slam on the brakes. Two docs have hit hippos in the past. More damage to the car than to the hippos.

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