It’s not often one gets to see an African Rock Python in the wild and it’s even rarer to see one of these huge snakes – the largest in Africa – with its victim. So we were doubly lucky on a trip to South Africa’s Kruger National Park to find a python close to the side of the road, coiled round a big male vervet monkey.
Of course it’s not just luck – sharp eyes and bush knowledge also played a part. Two of our party spotted the python after they were alerted that something was amiss by the frantic alarm call of birds in the vicinity. When we arrived, the python had two full coils round the monkey’s torso. There were no signs of life from the victim. But it had clearly not succumbed without a fight, for we could see bloody wounds on the python’s body, inflicted by the desperate monkey’s sharp teeth.
Although we could get a reasonable view from our vehicles, it was unfortunately one-dimensional as it’s strictly forbidden to leave the road in the park. As we watched, the python started untangling itself until it was completely uncoiled and lying full-length in the grass.
The python then slithered back towards the monkey, apparantly looking for a way to start swallowing it. The close-up of the python’s head with the monkey in the foreground clearly shows blood around the python’s mouth, possibly from when it first sank its teeth into the monkey before squeezing it to death.
At this stage the python seemed unsure of what to do and, to our disappointment, slithered away and disappeared into its hole in an old tree stump nearby, leaving the body of the monkey lying prone in the grass.
So we headed off in search of other animals, only to return at dusk – about two hours later – drawn back to this unusual spectacle. And once more luck was on our side, as the python was back, again coiled round the monkey, very slowly starting to swallow the monkey. From our position, we weren’t able to get a clear view of this, but could see that the python had started literally to squeeze the monkey down its throat.
Unfortunately we had to leave almost immediately to get back to camp before the gates closed at 6.30pm. Although we returned in the morning, there was no sign whatsoever of python or monkey, so we were left to ponder whether the snake had managed to swallow its prey unhindered, or whether possibly those cunning scavengers, the spotted hyenas, had robbed it of its meal.