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Last night on the way into a leopard sighting I was way-laid by a beautiful sight. There, in the headlights of another vehicle, was my favorite species of snake, an African Rock Python, Python natalensis. River Lodge Ranger Maggie and I both had huge smiles on our faces as we bent to examine the small male and explain to our guests his movements, breathing device (snorkel), fixed teeth, non-venomous bite, and so on. African Rock Pythons are known as Royal Game and are considered a species that is not allowed to be collected or sold as pets either in or out of South Africa, nor are they allowed to be exterminated in any way. (There is a hefty fine if you are caught killing, owning, or transporting this snake.) They are also listed in the South African Red Data Book as vulnerable. African Pythons can grow over 6 meters in length and have numerous fixed recurved teeth. They are constrictors and mostly eat small mammals and birds but have also been known to take down medium sized mammals like Impala.

They are able to swim and can be seen in and near waterholes, dams, and rivers, as well as inhabiting places like termite mounds and large logs. Rock Pythons are one of the few reptiles who take care of their young. Mothers are known to wrap themselves around their eggs, generating heat by shivering to aide in hatching. Most active at dusk or dawn, these beautiful snakes can also be seen basking in the midday sun. They are not easily confused with any other species and their enemies are numerous, including leopard.

One of the most spectacular sightings I have had in my career is one of a female leopard killing a female Rock Python who had just eaten a full grown Impala. After the female snake’s meal a male Python had slithered up and tried to mate with her. As they were locked in their snake embrace the leopard killed both Pythons, slit open the females belly and ate the Impala, and the leopard and her cub then ate both Pythons. Unfortunately, our Rock Python last night was not large enough to interest the male leopard and he was also a distance away snoozing in a river bed after a meal.

Another fantastic night on Kapama…Leopard and African Rock Python…a Ranger’s dream!

By: Noelle DiLorenzo – Kapama River Lodge Ranger

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