Dinner is a lavish, all-night affair in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park.
The elephants’ tummies are rumbling. They’re gurgling and whining and yawning with hunger. They’re fed up with the acacia branches and thorns and the random flurry of leaves consumed during their day-long graze across the vast South Luangwa valley in Zambia in southern Africa. Who wants to eat bland entrees, when there’s dessert to be had?
And so the herd is on the move, lumbering eastwards towards the sweet-scented perimeter of the wild, unfenced South Luangwa National Park. The sun is setting over the savannah, turning the sky to mauve. Carmine bee-eaters shoot towards the nests they’ve scooped out from the riverbank, sleek pink projectiles bulleting home. Hyenas howl at the moon as it emerges silver and plump from the clouds.
We trundle along a dirt track in our Landcruiser, eyes fixed on the shaft of torchlight our tracker is using to probe the bush. Insects dance with dust particles inside the tube of light; crickets scour their forewings in a symphony of stridulation. The torchlight washes over the bush like a wand, illuminating a rosette-covered figure on a fallen tree branch: a sleek, handsome leopard, face buried in the bloody carcass of something tasty.
Dinner has begun. The hyenas are circling. The elephants are trumpeting far off in the distance. The African night envelops us like a shawl.
Morning comes, a bucket of light poured out upon the land. Led by an armed guard, we tiptoe through the bush, gaining on its inhabitants by stealth: giraffes, browsing the highest trees; buffaloes grazing on fresh shoots of grass; African green pigeons dive-bombing trees and pillaging their fruit.
The elephants are approaching now, lumbering back from their night-time incursions. We hear their tummies rumbling again. But it’s different this time: it’s the sound not of yawning absence and irritability but of contented fullness, the sound of digestive juices slopping and churning around stomachs full of mangoes. The villagers on the perimeter of this park will be waking now, only to find their fruit orchards plundered. TTW
Catherine Marshall was a guest of The Classic Safari Company. Photos © Catherine Marshall