Graeme Mitchley, educator at Hurlyvale Primary School, captured this amazing sighting recently when he was visiting the Kruger National Park and he shared with Latest Sightings the story:
The H10 is my favourite road in the park. Besides the beautiful landscapes and scenery, there is always an abundance of wildlife. Late afternoon is the best time to head back to Lower Sabie with the sun behind you! Just before this sighting, I had seen large herds of zebra and wildebeest heading down to the nearby waterhole. Earlier in the day, I was lucky enough to spot a herd of Sable antelope near the S129 north entrance.
The puffadder had been slowly slithering across the road when it was attacked by the Brown Snake-eagle. It was pretty gruesome to watch as the eagle began to eat and tear the snake apart while it was still alive. I felt sorry for the snake and it was a sighting that was not easy to watch. Even now when I watch the video I get upset when watching the snake suffering. Not many people like snakes but this was a painfully slow death. People have asked me why the snake didn’t try and strike the bird. All I can think of is that the eagle had the snake well pinned down and had possibly broken the snakes back which limited its movements. Snake Eagles, like Secretary birds, are prime snake hunters and specifically target snakes. They have exceptional coordination and use their powerful talons to kill the snake by driving them through its head and body before it can bite them. They successfully avoid being bitten because they are careful. Snake-eagle legs and toes are covered in thick scales that help protect them from bites. The eagles don’t have hair on their legs. Snake bites are a serious risk: snake-eagles take on some of the swiftest and deadliest snakes in the world. Snake eagles are not immune to snake venom.
The snake eagle tore the snake in half and soon after flew away to enjoy his supper with only the tail end in his beak, the end without venom. The venom glands are located in the head of the puffadder. This part of the snake was left lying on the road. The next morning when I drove the same route there was no evidence of the snake. It is possible a hyena or another scavenger had taken the snake for a meal. I have seen photographs before of a hyena with a dead puffadder in its mouth. I am not sure if the venom has any effect when the snake is dead or if the hyena avoids it somehow. It is a question a snake expert could possibly answer. All I know is that, after observing them closely for many years, wild animals are extremely smart and their instincts are highly developed! “