Saturday morning wasn’t only exciting because the Springbok rugby team was playing against Wales that night. It was also the day on which I saw what is by far the largest snake I have ever seen in South Africa. An enormous Rock Python, which we estimate was over 4 metres long; a seriously impressive specimen!
It was a cloudy day and the Mhangeni Pride was lying out in the open near Ximpalapala Pan. They were not doing much, but we decided to spend some time with them anyway to see if the cubs would start to play. Instead the females opted to move the pride south, and began walking into the big block south of Ximpalapala koppie. The pride was in high spirits and became more playful the further they moved into the bush. Lionesses were tackling each other and climbing fallen marula tress and cubs were running in between them, but coming up a hill from out of a drainage line, the mood suddenly changed. Ears pricked up and all eyes focused forward. Four buffalo bulls were enjoying the shade of a Jackalberry tree about 60m ahead. We didn’t think anything was going to happen as the lionesses had the cubs with them, but it was still a fascinating stand-off to observe, as the buffalo had by now seen the lions as well and were staring them down.
One lioness, a little ahead of the others, suddenly leapt about 3ft in the air and spun round, hissing at a bush. We initially had thought that she might have stepped on a thorn, but the hiss, followed by the cubs scuttling for the safety of a nearby termite mound, made us realise that there was something hiding in that bush. A sound like steam escaping from a boiler suddenly erupted from the grass, and the coils of what was clearly a very big snake could be seen moving near the lionesses, who by now had all gathered to snarl menacingly at the threat.
We had to wait a while until the lionesses had moved off with the cubs until we could take a closer look, but it was worth it, as the snake – which we had by now identified as an African Rock Python – was a biggie!
I have to admit that once we had seen it and had a good look at its lengthy coils, I was in favour of staying with the playful lions, but my guest Peter was insistent that we stayed with the python to see if it came out. I’m pretty glad he was keen to do this, as after about 15 minutes, the snake started to move off to safer ground, and we finally got a good idea of how long it truly was.
Look how long it takes this massive snake to move through the frame:
It slithered off into the grass, leaving us speechless at not only its length, but also its girth. There is no way that the circle made by putting my thumbs and index fingers together would have fitted around its body.
To try and estimate how big it was, we returned the next day with a tape measure to try and get some idea of the distance it covered and convert that to a length of snake, but though we found the bush the python had come from, some elephant had moved through the area and trampled the marks on the ground we were going to reference off, so an accurate conversion became impossible, or at least tough for our mathematically limited brains. We estimated the python to have been over 4 metres long however, which is BIG, whichever way you look at it!
Oh and the Springboks beat Wales handosmely that evening, so it was a good day all-in-all.
Written, Filmed and Photographed by James Tyrrell