Wildlife sightings

“Lies, damned lies and statistics…”

The only question that really matters when you’re on safari is “Will we see X?” Now, ‘X’ may be a lion, a cheetah, a kill or a wildebeest crossing, but the frustrating bit is that you never get a straight answer. Guides will tell you that “You never know what you’re going to see” or “There’s a pretty good chance” or “We might see that”, but they’ll never use statistics to give you a proper idea of the relevant probability. Fortunately, the manager of Klein’s Camp kindly gave me copies of the sighting sheets for seven months in 2018 and early 2019, so I was able to do a frequency analysis.

First, a couple of quick caveats about the data:

  • The records are not complete. Data are only available from July 2018 to January 2019, there were no game drives on some days, and the guides only started counting sightings of caracal, serval, aardwolf, migration herds and kills in October 2018.

  • The figures are for ‘sightings’, which means it doesn’t show the actual number of animals seen. A sighting of a lion just means that one or more lions was spotted.

  • Figures are for a given day rather than an individual game drive. At Klein’s, there are usually two game drives a day, one in the morning from 0600 or 0630 until lunchtime and another from 1600 or 1630 until sunset (1830-1900). Sometimes the evening game drive turns into a ‘night drive’ for an extra couple of hours. A ‘day’ therefore amounts to around nine hours in the bush.

Despite the limitations of the data, it’s possible to draw a few conclusions.

  • There were 1,135 sightings of the Big Five, cheetah, wild dog, serval, caracal, aardwolf, migration herds and kills in seven months (215 days), making an average of 157 a month or five a day.

  • Lions were the most common sighting (312), followed by buffalo (311), elephant (284), leopard (100), cheetah (68), serval (12), wild dog and caracal (both 11), rhino (10) and aardwolf (1).

  • Kills were very rare, with only five spotted during the four months when records are available.

  • If you divide the number of days when each animal was sighted by the total number of days in the period, you can get an approximate probability of seeing each one on a given day (see chart).

  • The chances of seeing a lion on any given day were 81% from July 2018 to January 2019 (from 52% in October 2018 to 93% the following month).

  • The chances of seeing any big cat were 85% (from 55% in October 2018 to 100% the following month).

  • The chances of seeing one of the ‘Big Five’ (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo) were 87% (from 58% in October 2018 to 100% the following month).

  • The chances of seeing all of the Big Five on the same day were vanishingly small, only 0.93%! It only happened on two days, 1 and 10 October 2018.