What happens when a raptor and python cross paths – high up in a tree? One Wild Card member was astonished to witness this three-hour, deadly interaction.

Late last year Luis Da Cruz and his wife spent a few days at Ngwenya Lodge, situated on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park. A leisurely stroll soon turned into an afternoon to remember when a two-metre-long python – high up in a tree – caught Luis’s attention.

The Kruger regular was even more astonished when he noticed the python was wrapped around a bird. “I could not believe our luck. While trying to work out exactly what type of bird the snake had caught, I was also desperately trying to get decent pictures. The snake was very high up, 25m plus, and the light was poor,” Luis recalls.

With many spectators, all speculating about what was happening, questions were plentiful. Did the python kill the black-shouldered kite in the tree or on the ground? If the python caught the bird on the ground, how did it get the bird up into the tree? Did the bird land close to the snake, already at home in the tree, and meet its match? And probably the most dreaded question of all: What would happen if the snake fell out of the tree?

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The Southern African python firmly grips its prey: an unfortunate black-shouldered kite. Pictures by Luis Da Cruz

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With the python dangling from a tree branch, it’s proving quite a task to swallow the bird.

To add to the drama, a pied crow showed up. “For at least 30 minutes, the crow desperately tried to disrupt the snake by pecking at its tail, trying to dislodge it from the tree, and making one almighty racket. It’s known that crows and snakes are natural enemies – this crow’s actions seemed to indicate that it was trying to get the snake to release the black-shouldered kite. I have never witnessed anything like this.”

Was the crow trying to rescue the kite or did it want to steal the snake’s meal? Let us know what you think.

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After three hours, the snake still hadn’t swallowed the motionless bird. “By now our necks were stiff from looking upwards all this time and we decided to move on. The next day, none of the other spectators could confirm what had happened in the end, everyone wishing that they had watched the entire interaction. Quite a few of the visitors suggested that this particular python is a regular in the area.”

An unsolved mystery

Snake expert Johan Marais identified the snake as a Southern African python (Python natalensis). This snake kills its prey by constriction and then swallows it whole.

“It’s quite unusual to see a python eating an adult bird in broad daylight. It is an ambush hunter and usually hides in bushes or grass to surprise its prey. How it got the bird up the tree is a bit of a mystery. Although they feed on mammals and birds, they are also known to take fish and leguaans. The maximum length for the Southern African python is just short of 6m.”