François Le Vaillant is considered by many to be Africa’s finest ornithologist. He was born in Suriname in 1753 and was the son of a frenchman. In 1781 he was sent by the Dutch East India Company to the Cape Province of South Africa where he would collect bird specimens for 7 years. He would ultimately send the specimens to various museums around the world. He made three expeditions – one around present-day Cape Town and Saldanha Bay, one east from the Cape and the third north of the Orange River and into today’s southern Namibia.
He was a controversial figure, whom at the time and vigorously opposed the systematic of nomenclature introduced by Carolus Linnaeus. He refused to use his naming system and only gave the new species he discovered French names. Some of these are still in use as common names, such as Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus. Other naturalists were left to assign binomial names to his new discoveries. Many birds throughout southern Africa still have names in honour of him: Levaillant’s Cisticola and Levaillant’s Cuckoo to name just two.
Rumour has it that Le Vaillant created quite a stir back in the day by submitting specimens of birds that did not really exist! He would supposedly fabricate species using bits and pieces from a number of different birds. Thus he ‘discovered’ a large number of birds that have never actually been seen! Whose to blame the lad when you consider that his explorations were being paid for by the museums on a ‘per species specimen’ basis.
One of the gentleman who aided Le Vaillant in his collections was named Klaas. Klaas was responsible for the shooting or trapping birds which Le Vaillant would then name. In honour of the contribution Klaas made towards his discoveries he named a cuckoo after him. Hence the reason we have a bird called the Klaas’s Cuckoo.
Le Vaillant was not only interested in exotic birds; he also had a fancy for native women. Along Le Vaillant’s travels in South Africa he picked up a mistress by the name of Narina: a lady believed to be Khoikhoi in origin. It was after her that he named this beautiful bird. He had seen nothing as beautiful as this green and red trogon and so found it fitting to name it after the lady with whom he had had a short and steamy affair.
And so to the point of this post…over the last 4 weeks we have had a Narina Trogon in camp! This extraordinarily beautiful bird is hardly ever encountered in this region, and its presence here has created quite a stir amongst the staff. Regular sightings have the staff on the lookout, especially as she is seen hanging around catching insects in the staff village or the backside of the kitchen. Anyone with a love of birding and a knowledge of this area will be well aware of just how unusual this is. We even have a dam named after the last time this bird was encountered at Londolozi…Trogon Dam. The question we are all asking is why has this mysterious bird suddenly arrived on our doorstep?
Written by Adam Bannister