It averages three to four metres in length, but can easily grow up to six metres long – that’s the southern African python. It’s massive – but even though it’s South Africa’s biggest snake, it’s very elusive and rarely seen in the wild.
Earlier this year, I was lucky to see an adult python on an evening game drive near Kapama Karula. This was definitely not a common sighting. Even more unusual to see was that the python had caught a young impala, which it was in the process of swallowing.
Contrary to popular belief, pythons don’t kill prey by crushing it, and in fact don’t break any bones in their prey when they constrict it. Pythons usually ambush their prey, latch onto them with powerful curved fangs and then wrap themselves around the prey, causing it to die of cardiac failure.
At the sighting, we watched as the python very slowly swallowed more of the impala. The antelope’s head and half of its body had already been swallowed, leaving only its hind quarters still visible. Guests on the game drive were left speechless, seeing such a huge snake eating an entire impala whole. Next morning when we returned to the same spot, the python was no longer there, and wasn’t seen again.
Two months later, however, during an early morning game drive in the same area, we discovered python remains – quite likely the same python. It’s a mystery how or why the python died, but hyena and leopard are on our list of suspects. This rarely seen snake provided us with two very unusual sightings: one in life and one in death.
On a pleasant night safari the other day my guests and I were coming towards the end of the safari drive, when out of the blue we happen upon one of the rarest sightings I have ever experienced. It all started earlier during the drive when we found the young Southern Male lion fast asleep at Sunset dam. This male normally likes to associate with the youngsters and lionesses of the Moria pride (named after one of the areas on the reserve). Later that evening on the way to the lodge I thought I would go past Sunset dam again and sure enough found the same magnificent Male lion heading towards us in the middle of the road.
I pulled off the road and allowed this massive cat to pass mere meters away from the vehicle. The guests loved the thrill and exhilaration to have such an powerful animal go past this close, and also the fact that he trusted us enough to actually come this close, without paying us any notice. We followed him down the road and he then suddenly veered off his direction clearly showing signs of having picked up on a smell needing closer investigation.
At first we thought he might have picked up a females’ scent and as he moved closer to a bush pandemonium broke loose. He suddenly launched himself into the air behind the bush with a massive African Rock Python biting him on the muzzle. With enormous power he flung the python of his nose and darted back into the road. You could see that this was quite an unpleasant surprise for him and after a few rubs he continued down the road. African Rock Pythons can reach a length of about 6-8 meters and grow up to about 50 – 70 Kg in weight. This is pure muscle and they are extremely powerful snakes.
Obviously this would be quite a hearty meal for a Lion but I am sure this male would think twice before taking on such a powerful reptile again. We couldn’t help but smile when it struck us that this is probably the best example of the age old saying ” don’t bite off more than you can chew…”
Ranger Mike Powell
One afternoon drive, we already had a great beginning with seeing two male Leopards having a territorial dispute. The older male Leopard ended up getting pushed out of his territory and the younger male won territory that he could finally call his own! A little while later we had found a pride of Lions, one male and two females lounging around like lions do!!! Finally we decided that this was too much action for one day and a drink was needed. We stopped at a waterhole, with the sun setting just behind it.
We had just served everyone with drinks and chatting about the day’s events, and all of a sudden my tracker Tully asked us to keep quiet! It was as if someone had switched the radio off, we were deadly silent! Not far from us we heard these strange snorting noises and Tully explained that this was very unhappy Impala’s. So we very quickly packed up to go find out what was
upsetting these Impala’s so much. Drove one block switched off the engine and listened, drove to the direction of the snorting and switched the engine off and listened. We found the Impala’s all facing the same direction and as we looked beyond them we saw this little white body lying on the ground. As we drove closer i could not believe my eyes, we had just witnessed Africa’s largest snake- the African Rock Python kill a young Impala.
Males can get up to 4.5metres and females 5metres and easily weigh 55kgs, that’s a lot of snake for some people to handle. Their diet is varied but they can consume small antelope, monkeys, fish, monitor lizards and even small crocodiles have been recorded. Today this Python had killed a young impala, and it was through the mothers distress calls that we had gotten this phenomenal sighting. African Rock Pythons seek prey with their heat sensors, ambush and then use strength rather than venom. As the animal exhales the snake constricts and with every breath until the prey is exhausted of oxygen. Once the prey stops breathing the Python then releases his grip and goes towards the head and starts to consume his hard earned prey. At this time the snake is at its most vulnerable to predators, so he swallows the prey surprisingly fast. Once the Python has devoured his prey he goes into hiding like a cavity of a tree or maybe an old Aardvark hole, so that the digestive juices can take over!
It just goes to show that the bush is extremely unpredictable, you never know what’s around the next corner and if you us all your senses you just might just get so much more…
Morah-Leigh Cooper-Ranger, Kapama Karula