But the fact of the matter is that you can’t spot a genet. That’s because they’ve already been spotted. In the Luangwa Valley the large-spotted genet is the prevailing species, though their scientific name is much more charming: Genetta tigrina.
Take a night-drive in the Valley. It’s a rare night when you don’t spot a spotted genet. On sheer charm they beat everything else the bush can offer: slinky, pink-nosed, sinuous, busy, bright-eyed and of course, seriously spotty.
Wait till dark, switch on your spotlight, beam it about in the manner of a light-house as your vehicle chugs slowly across the wooded savannah: and bingo! The eye-shine from the crotch of a tree or from the base of bush gives it away. Sometimes they streak away from you in a sleek winking of spots; at other times they stare back with cat-like impertinence.
Not cats at all, though they look like them: they’re actually viverids, related to civets and mongeese (preferred plural). They’re adroit climbers with the feverish activity that’s a family trait, and they eat small mammals, quite big birds, large insects, fruit and even the flowers and sweet nectar of sausage trees. Not fussy feeders, then, and successful wherever you find trees.
I met a pet genet once. It was lovely to be close to so lovely a thing. As he got wilder he used his home less and less and eventually set off to seek his fortune, I hope with immense success.
We returned to camp in the dark with our newly-arrived guests rather beaten up after their long flight. But the genets came out to charm them: to tell them that the Valley and all its rich gifts were now available. And as always with my first genet of the trip, I thought to myself: it’s worth it just for you.