by Peter Gava | Lodge Manager
It has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that snakes can kill and eat other snakes for so many reasons, some linked to inter/intra-specific competition and others much to do with the predatory instincts based on being opportunistic in their methods of acquiring food. Cannibalism of killing and eating one’s own kind or relation is amazing, more so it has to go against the ethics of fair survival and subsistence and such a sight of species interacting that way can be shocking if not interesting. Observing a fight between two snake individuals trying to bite and introduce venom in each the other is like watching heavy weight wrestlers attempt to catch the other by surprise using speed and accuracy. At the beginning of February, 2010 we had a wonderful observation of an Egyptian Cobra and Puff-Adder fight at the Old Bushman School in the Bwabwata National Park.
There were several thrusts by both snakes which resulted in misses. The Egyptian cobra measuring 2 meters swayed from side to side and ducked away when the Puff Adder made attempts to strike. The shorter, stout but sluggish Puff Adder obviously new that it was facing a much superior and bigger predator cousin than itself and needed to stand firm and fight for its life. After some 5 minutes the Puff Adder finally took a decision to turn around and run, a big mistake which the cobra was waiting for. In a swift movement the cobra struck the puff Adder at the upper part of the tail and although the adder tried to retaliate, it proved too slow. The cobra quickly took advantage of the shocked adder and started swallowing it from the tip of the tail until three quarters of it had disappeared into the cobra. I felt very sorry for the cobra for once upon a time I had watched another cobra killing and prematurely swallowing a puff-adder, being bitten from inside resulting in the mortality of both snakes in less than an hour. This particular cobra seemed to be hearing me from my silent talk and quickly regurgitated the puff adder. He slowly moved to the head of the adder, probably to try and check its consciousness which was a wise thing to do and saved the cobra’s life for a moment. On just getting close to the adder’s head, the cobra had to sway back hastily to avoid two strikes from the adder. This was astonishing, for after 30 minutes one would have thought the adder had passed the stage of paralysis and maybe in rigor mortis. Another car came by and its vibrations forced the cobra to flee into the bushes, leaving the puff adder just as still as ice. There was now a worry that maybe the cobra would not turn back to finish off the mission and the poor puff adder’s fate would not have saved any purpose as far as nature is supposed to take its own course is concerned.
The other car went by, to avoid running over the puff adder who just by looking at it one would presume almost dead. Dead silence now prevailed with the other vehicle gone and observation of these ophidians continued. It was shocking to see the Puff Adder start moving, rolling itself onto the track road, stopping for a moment and wriggling slowly as if finally dying. As it continued to push as if in labor, a huge clump of black droppings came out with a splash of uric acid. This was probably a method of its body system trying to get rid of the cobra’s venom. After this the cobra then moved on slowly on the sand, tried to move out of the track a few times but lost balance as it was tired and in big pain. Suddenly the Egyptian Cobra reappeared from the bushes, searched everywhere for its prey, getting lost almost frequently and finally picking up the scent from the last spot it had left the puff adder. The cobra smoothly pushed itself over the sand and followed the puff adder that he finally could not find. When the cobra was about 2 meters from catching the adder, the adder got to some hot sand which forced it to put effort to exit the road into the nearest bushes. Just before the cobra realized that its prey had faced another difficulty, it also found itself in the same catastrophe! The cobra wriggled around and quickly thrust itself out of the road and disappeared into the bushes. After some 10 minutes, the cobra came back to the road but far ahead of where the Puff Adder was hiding obviously having lost the scent to keep on following its prey. The cobra then went to the different side of the road and probably still intending to carry on searching for the puff adder. This was an hour and a half of observation and it had to stop at that moment. When the vehicle passed by, the puff adder lay still and breathed heavily, a sign that it was struggling. If the cobra finally found puff adder then its own life would have been saved. It would then consume the adder at a time when it could be dead or so week not to respond.
When this happens always one gets that satisfaction of seeing nature do the best it can to shape or deface itself without man’s interference for its own benefit. The Bwabwata National Park is one wildlife sanctuary where a visitor can still expect to see such interactions unfold because of its being entirely natural.