Winner takes all

Winner takes all

It was a scorching summer day when a flutter of wings by a sub-adult brown snake eagle drew the attention of Enrico and Erna Liebenberg. The raptor was desperately trying to overpower a large, strong Cape cobra. The bird seemed to be a little unsure of itself and kept looking up into the sky, probably to see if any other raptor had been attracted by the commotion. 

The cobra was writhing vigorously as the talons cut deep into its flesh, until it managed to free part of its body. In the blink of an eye the roles were reversed. The snake coiled its freed part around the neck and head of the eagle, trying to choke it so that it would release its grip. 

For about 15 minutes the bird repeatedly tried to hook its bill into parts of the cobra’s body it could reach, but to no avail. Then suddenly the raptor managed to slide free from the killer-grip, pinned the cobra’s head to the ground, and began feeding on the tail end! The snake was still not ready to concede defeat and managed to free its head and the upper part of its body from the deadly talons. It reared its head in typical cobra-style attack and struck repeatedly at the bird, which continued to rip off parts of its body and eat them, but keeping out of reach of the venomous fangs. 

The snake eagle’s gruesome feast lasted for more than 20 minutes, after which it casually left the apparently dead snake, moved a few paces away, spread its wings and flew off. 

Enrico and Erna assumed the snake to be dead, but after about 10 minutes and to their great surprise, the half-eaten cobra showed signs of life and slowly slithered away into a hole in the ground. It is unlikely that it survived much longer in that seriously injured state, so it probably had been ‘a fight to the death’.

Photo story: Enrico and Erna Liebenberg

This photo story features in the book Kgalagadi Self-Drive – Routes, Roads and Ratings. Find out more here.


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