When a Nile crocodile in the Kruger National Park gets hold of a honey badger, one thing’s set in stone: there’s no escaping one of Africa’s most efficient hunters.

Earlier this year, photographer and Wild Card traveller Sheila Grobbelaar was crossing the area between the two Ngobeni Loops on the H14 in the Kruger National Park. “As I am always stalking leopards, I noticed movement close to some reeds. I quickly realised it was a crocodile. Initially it was submerged, but we saw splashing and thought the reptile had caught a large catfish.”

Only when the Nile crocodile surfaced close to the river’s edge, a shocked Sheila made sense of the unfolding scene. “The crocodile started thrashing a honey badger around – to my horror. I just love badgers, so it wasn’t a pleasant sighting. And yes, I’m constantly reminded not to connect on a human level as nature is nature. Both my husband and I started snapping, knowing it was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting.”

The crocodile continued to whip the badger from side to side. Sheila suspects this was in an attempt to tear its prey into pieces. “Seeing the poor badger’s demise was quite emotional. We watched for about an hour. The crocodile remained in the water tightly clamping down on the badger. As the reptile showed no signs of exiting the river, we decided to hit the road.”

Making a return

After some 30 minutes, Sheila decided to return to the scene. The crocodile had finally retired to the river bank. “We watched it lying there, clutching the badger in its mouth, for another half an hour. Friends of mine said that they happened to see the crocodile on the bank later that day and left the sighting with just enough time to make gate closing time. At that stage, the crocodile was still stationary with badger in mouth.”

The next day, early morning, Sheila found no sign of either crocodile or badger remains.

Typical hunting behaviour?

Crocodile expert and senior lecturer in nature conservation at Tshwane University of Technology, Dr Xander Combrink, has been studying these reptiles for many years.

“I suspect the reason why the crocodile spent so much time with the dead badger in its mouth was due to the difficulty of tearing up the carcass into sufficiently small pieces to swallow. While most mammals chew their food prior to swallowing, crocodiles need to break up their food into smaller pieces to swallow before chemical digestion takes place (under extreme low pH – highly acidic – conditions in the stomach).

“Honey badgers are known for their incredibly tough skin. The weight of the recently killed badger was seemingly too light (10-12kg) to provide sufficient resistance for the crocodile to tear through the tough skin while thrashing the badger from side to side in the water. If a second crocodile was present, it would have been easier for them to tear open the dead badger through cooperative action. The pictured crocodile probably left the water in an attempt to tear the carcass on land.”

Learn more about crocodiles

Join us for a talk by Dr Xander Combrink on Thursday 18 October 2018 to get insight into the secret lives of crocodiles.

Pictures by Sheila Grobbelaar