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Unlucky African Rock Python Becomes Leopard’s Breakfast Sandwich

Courtesy of the Tanda Tula Safari Camp where Chad Cocking is a Game Ranger.

When Chad found a leopard feeding off a double meal of duiker and python he knew this was not an everyday safari experience. An unusual and exciting sighting which has left chad still guessing…

“Finding the Marula female leopard waltzing down the road on our way to bush breakfast was the cherry on top of another successful morning game drive a few days back. We eventually left her resting high up in a knobthorn tree on the banks of the Nhlaralumi Riverbed.

Following up in the area in the afternoon, Given and Ginger began tracking and soon found where the leopard had managed to make a kill during the middle of the day, not all that far from where we had left her in the morning.

At first, we thought nothing much of the news that she had been successful in her efforts, as she was looking quite eager for a meal in the morning. However, upon hearing exactly what she had killed, my interest was suddenly piqued; not only because she had two meals, but also due to the nature of the prey.

Marula was eating a young duiker, which isn’t at all unusual for a leopard, as these diminutive antelopes regularly find their way onto a leopard’s menu. More intriguing was the fact that, lying in the same thicket as her duiker kill, was a large, now-dead, African rock python!

These gorgeous constrictors are the largest snakes in Africa, and seeing large specimens is not something that we get to enjoy very often in the Timbavati. Even less frequent is seeing one of these snakes ending up on a leopard’s dinner plate.

With the unusual information that there was a dead duiker and a dead rock python in the same area, our investigative minds started working to figure out how this rare situation had perhaps occurred.

Was it just chance that the leopard had killed a duiker on the river bank and that the python happened to slither past and end up as a meal also, or was there more to it than that?

Although purely speculation, we are all led to believe that Marula was more than likely just being her usual, opportunistic and that it was the python that had in fact done the work in catching the young duiker for itself .

African Rock Pythons are definitely large and powerful enough to catch prey of this size and bigger. However, the duiker would not have gone quietly, and its trumpeter hornbill-like distress calls would no doubt have been picked up by the leopard.

Marula would have gone to investigate these cries, hoping for an easy meal. But in this situation she would have gotten more than she bargained for when she found the python constricting the duiker.

Her predatory instinct would have taken over and the slow moving serpent – no doubt huffing and puffing in an attempt to deter the predator – would have been just too tempting for her to resist. After an undisclosed amount of time, the leopard would have ceased the python and sat down to enjoy her two-course lunch.

Over the course of a couple of days, Marula finished the duiker carcass first, but then interestingly, despite showing a fair amount of interest in the python (including moving it to several locations for safe keeping), she eventually left the lifeless, limbless reptile lying relatively untouched, and walked off.

This confirmed to me that the killing of the python was based more on opportunism and instinct than it was about the desire to eat, but it still left me surprised as to why the leopard didn’t actually bother eating the python?

And that is a question I have not been able to answer yet. In the past, I have known leopards to kill and consume these pythons, but why not this time? Perhaps she’s heard of Chef Ryan’s delicious cuisine, and raw python just wasn’t going to cut it for her!”