In the animal kingdom, opportunistic behaviour often results in comical and unique interaction between species. Such was the case when a grey heron roped in an easy-going hippo as landing strip. By Arnold Ras   

Bird lover and photographer Gerhard Geldenhuys says he spends “hours on end” at Sunset Dam in the Kruger National Park. For Gerhard it’s an opportunity to study the behaviour of various bird species and their respective hunting prowess. “The ability to secure [eye-catching] pictures is very much dependent on paying close attention and anticipating the bird’s next move.”

Even when a waterhole doesn’t immediately turn up an interesting sighting, it’s worth sticking around. “You will be pleasantly surprised to see what I witness sitting at this dam!” says Gerhard. In particular, he loves watching the interaction between birds and animals, such as this encounter between a grey heron and a hippo.

Next time you pass Sunset Dam, we suggest you pull over and pay close attention…

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Comfortably landing on the hippo’s back, this grey heron has a plan: catching some fish. Seemingly relaxed and content, the hippo makes no objection to piggybacking the bird.

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Before long, the heron spots lunch and immediately launches itself into the water.

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Within a fraction of a second, the heron secures the catch in its bill and prepares to take flight.

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And up it goes! But wait… Why take flight and risk dropping the catch back into the water? This heron is no birdbrain and decides to enjoy the fishy feast on the spot.

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While the heron gulps down the catch, the hippo enjoys an impromptu siesta. And look, a hippo calf has decided to make its appearance.

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It’s been a pleasure… The heron sets off on its next adventure.

Camera specs: Nikon D810, 400mm Nikkor lens with a 2x converter at f5.6.

How to get there

Sunset Dam is situated approximately 1km from Lower Sabie Rest Camp. As the name suggests, this spot is particularly photogenic when the sun goes down.

Want to see more of Gerhard’s action sequences? Don’t miss this action sequence of a hamerkop fishing in flight.

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