05 March 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Watching the snake

A trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park reveals a Cape cobra ruffling sociable weavers’ feathers. It is 1 of the most active predators I’ve seen.

Recently we were in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, driving along the dry Nossob riverbed and scanning it for likely predators. We’d seen two lionesses on the Mata Mata road, magnificently indifferent to us. And earlier, we’d spotted a cheetah mother and her half-grown cubs practically waddling about after gorging themselves on some unseen carcass.

Seeing nothing more, we turned our attention to a fallen sociable weaver nest. These are massive structures, looking somewhat like large thatched roofs built into camelthorns or any likely upright aloe or pole. They can literally weigh tons, and sometimes collapse under their own weight.

Right next to the road, part of 1 had fallen to the ground, and the sociable weavers, with their brown feathers and pale blue beaks, were harvesting its grass stalks to take to their new nest, wittering inanely all the while, as is their wont.

Suddenly there was a movement on the ground. A snake sailed into the foreground, practically vibrating with intent. Suddenly the wittering from the birds reached a whole new level of urgency.

Suddenly there was a movement on the ground. A snake sailed into the foreground, practically vibrating with intent. Suddenly the wittering from the birds reached a whole new level of urgency.

The snake flared its cobra hood at them briefly to show who was boss and then carried on, completely ignoring the now-hysterical birds. It entered 1 hole of the nest and exited through another. It whipped around that entire nest site, glided atop it and poked its head in all the holes.

But the birds had already moved all the nestlings and there were no eggs that we could see. The snake coiled itself up and considered its options, implacable black eyes shining, and equally black tongue trying to scent food.

Suddenly the snake (a particularly lovely speckled Cape cobra – Naja nivea) looked up and saw the rest of the sociable weavers' nest. It uncoiled itself and started to glide up the trunk of the camelthorn, with agitated twittering for accompaniment.

We couldn’t stay because awaiting the next exciting episode would have meant missing the camp gate time. Poor birds. That hungry snake was going to turn their late afternoon into a living hell.

On reflection, I realised it was the 1st time I’d seen a snake that was just a snake. That is, not a pest someone was trying to nervously evict from a house or a shop. One that wasn’t an exhibit at a snake park. Just a snake in nature, on the hunt. And thinking back, it was by far the most active predator we’d seen. Except for the jackal, maybe.

But that’s another story.

Category: Wildlife


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