There is something magical about that resting time in-between game drives. Over the years of frequenting lodges across Southern Africa, I have learned to appreciate this special time and love those lodges that offer a comfortable private deck from the room. During our visit to Varty Camp in June 2015, I was revelling in my down time on deck, when my eye was drawn to movement in the bushes just below the plunge pool.
Grabbing my camera from the side table I rushed over and lay down on my stomach to capture one of the most exciting and riveting scenes I have ever witnessed. At first it was difficult to see exactly what was happening as I had to find my focus between the leaves, but when I had locked on, my jaw dropped from absolute awe.
I managed to get there just in time to see a Southern Vine Snake grab a Western Stripe-Bellied Sand Snake around the neck. In previous trips to the bush I had been fortunate enough to see both species before. Just a year earlier we had a Vine Snake in one of the shrubs just outside our room at another lodge. What amazed me was how camouflaged it was and that even upon our approach it didn’t move a muscle, simply remaining motionless relying on its superb camouflage to remain undetected. We had seen Sand Snakes a few times in the Kruger National Park and in every instance were only allowed a fleeting glance as they move with an incredible pace when disturbed.
This Vine Snake, which I assumed to be rather slow, had miraculously managed to capture a lightning fast meal! The Southern Vine Snake produces a potent haemotoxic venom which in addition to killing the victim also assists in breaking down proteins and aiding in digestion. It was amazing to watch the Sand Snake struggle and within a few minutes to see the venom eventually taking effect and the life ebb out of its body.
Although the Sand Snake put up a valiant effort and even tried twisting to bite the Vine Snake, it was all in vain as the potency of the Vine Snake’s venom subdued it with extreme efficiency. The Vine Snake seemed to now have a dilemma on its scales as, from my perspective, it seemed an impossibility to swallow the Sand Snake from the killing position around the neck. After about 10 minutes all problems were solved as the Vine Snake simply began to swallow and the head folded up against the neck. Once the head and neck were ingested I watched in wonder as I could clearly see the backward facing fangs of the Vine Snake assist in getting the Sand Snake down.
The entire process took about one hour and in the end the Vine Snake had pretty much doubled its weight as the Sand Snake was the same size as it. By the time it was all over I was pinching myself to confirm whether or not I had just dreamed the sequence of events and couldn’t believe my luck!
So often we are focused on the big things in life that we forget to take a breath and simply observe the incredible moments happening under our noses. We came to Londolozi with the big things on the menu and although we enjoyed all our courses, this one stands out as one of the biggest bush highlights ever.
Written and Photographed by: Sean de la Harpe-Parker, Londolozi Guest