Sacred Combe Safari IV
Day 5, part 1
I heard a leopard in the night: the roar that sounds like a saw. It’s a good sound to hear: you congratulate yourself on picking it out, and you go back to sleep easily, because it doesn’t have that menacing quality of a pride-chorus of lions. You rarely see more one leopard at time, almost never more than two – mother and cub, or a pair of honeymooners – so the collective noun, a leap of leopards, is seldom necessary.
But all the same, it’s good to know it. Zambian guides often have a liking for collective nouns, and enjoy bringing them into their expositions of the wildlife of the Luangwa Valley. A pride of lions is the most obvious one, of course. Another nice one is sounder: used here for wart-hogs, but more traditionally used for wild swine.
The favourite tends to be a dazzle of zebra. It gives a vivid idea of their fleeing selves, when it’s hard for a pursuer to pick out a single individual. All you see is the swirling Bridget-Riley patterns of their speeding backsides; a sight with the sick-making potential of the old Vertigo prog-rock record label.
We had taken a morning walk along the Mwaleshi River in North Luangwa National Park. We had already crossed the river a couple of times: seldom more than ankle deep and no crocs at this time of year, because too shallow. And we stopped on a sandbank to admire a colony of carmine bee-eaters.
Carmine bee-eaters nest in lines of holes in the riverbank, and a colony looks like the gun-ports of a man o’ war sailing into action; when they are excavating you can even see what look like plumes of smoke emerging from the holes. They are the great glamour-birds of the Valley: cherryade pink with caps of eye-blinking azure. Impossibly, their bums are picked out in the same colour.
And they fly in and they fly out, and when they are alarmed they sometimes all fly out together. And that is a…
… a cannonade of carmines.