When we go walking in the bush the scout goes first, carrying his gun, because his job is to keep us all safe. Second is the guide, whose job is to show us the wonders of the Luangwa Valley in Zambia. After that, the guests. Then me. Which means that I’m usually the last to see anything, and that rule counts double in wooded country.
We were in the generous riverine woods in North Luangwa National Park and Alex Phiri, our guide, had seen something and I hadn’t. So it goes. Then the angle changed, I had a new line through the tree trunks, and with it a brief glimpse – and it was a mammal I had never seen before. No little scrap of a thing either: this was getting on for a metre at the shoulder and around 100 kilos in weight. If only I could have had a proper view…
I have a lot to thank our guests for on every trip, but it’s seldom for their bush skills. This time it was different: Alex led us round, covering a fair old distance, the guests walked soft-footed behind him and better still, didn’t say a word. Our reward was a majestic vista dominated by a group of four bushpigs.
Bushpigs are supposed to be nocturnal, but maybe they’re less so when there are fewer humans about. They like plenty of trees, while warthogs prefer open country. We watched them and they watched us — and the pigs were more interested than worried. The male stood between us and the rest: a fine beast with a reddish pelt and the most excellent white mane: as beautiful a pig as the world has ever made.
He was standing under a leadwood tree while he gave us a long and serious examination. A grey hornbill piped a little gentle background music. And then with decision but without hurry the party of pigs left us: better things to do than standing around watching humans all day.
I’ve been coming to the Luangwa Valley for more than 30 years and have lost count of the number of visits. On every trip I revel in the deeply familiar; and every trip brings me something new. One day, perhaps, I will have seen everything the Valley offers, but as St Augustine prayed for chastity, so I pray for completion: not yet, oh Lord, not yet!
- I was co-leading a trip with Wildlife Worldwide https://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/discover/zambia