Friday, March 10, 2017

Python vs. Hyena: A Battle to the Death

Well a bit of a click-bait title there, but I bet you’ll be happy you did indeed click in the end.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen several clashes between giant serpents and unsuspecting mammals over the course of my travels throughout the years.  There was one time I saw a massive anaconda (the heaviest snake species in the world) take down a big male capybara in the Amazon.  Another when a 5m reticulated python (the longest snake species in the world) strangled and consumed a Sulawesi warty pig – which is just a fancy name for a wild boar.  However, I’ve never seen one of these leviathans take down a fellow carnivore until I came to the Mara. 
Bit of a spoiler here, but the rock python emerged as the victor in this clash of titans.  Pythons are constrictors and they slowly squeeze their prey to death after the prey's inevitable need to exhale air from their lungs [I've been corrected in the comments!: constrictor snakes cut off circulation and their prey are quickly rendered unconscious] and then swallow them whole - not one of the greatest ways to go.  All media was generously donated by Jos Bakker and his travel companions. 
After a tip-off from a benevolent group of tourists and their driver, we were informed that a massive 4m rock python had dispatched a hyena and was currently consuming it.  We were originally very skeptical that snake of any magnitude would target large carnivores capable of retaliating and causing significant bodily harm to said snake, like a spotted hyena.  A valuable friend of any scientist is skepticism, but thorough investigation is also a powerful ally.  When anxiously questioned for the location of this predator cataclysm, we were directed to a bridge over a swampy culvert on the border of Happy Zebra and North territories – probably the last place we were hoping this hypothetical event would’ve taken place as now there was an even higher probability that one of our beloved fisi had been dispatched.  Unfortunately, by the time we obtained this intel, it was too late to gallivant around the Mara which had received a true walloping of precipitation that night.  Olivia and I reasoned that a snake with a 68kg hyena bolus in tow would not be making it very far, so we elected to delay our desperate foray until the morning to allow the accumulated water to drain.  Eventually, the rock python was located, resembling, as its namesake implies: a gigantic rock submerged in a swamp.


Here is a video of the end of the strangulation phase and start of the swallowing phase.  You'll see the python first searching for the head, then miraculously pulling all 68kgs of hyena into position, unhinging its mandible, and beginning to swallow the prey head first.  All media was generously donated by Jos Bakker and his travel companions. 

Through cross-references of the video footage above, the discovery of a large rock python at the described location, and the condition of the snake – we concluded that this behemoth rock python did in fact kill and consume an adult spotted hyena.  It took several nerve-racking hours of feverishly searching the binders of our three clans and recently missing hyenas, but we successfully established that this hyena was not one of our own and was likely an immigrant male looking for a new clan.  This individual was likely ambushed and strangled to death as he or she wandered through the swampy culvert or neighboring drainage pipes looking for a cool place to sack out for the afternoon, as hyenas are wont to do.  Nevertheless, it is an incredibly impressive kill for this python.  This snake obviously knew what it was doing as it is one thing to successfully bite an adult hyena, and another to successfully bite, strangle cut off circulation, and come out of the fight unscathed.  One false strike and that hyena could have easily turned around and crushed the python’s skull.  Now that the rock python has successfully swallowed the hyena, it will likely lie motionless in a warm, safe place nearby for a couple of months.  It will digest the hyena in totality and given a kill of this magnitude it will not need to eat for several months after.  Well here’s to another fascinating struggle for life and death in the Mara.  Always remember, if a terrible B-movie appears on the SyFy channel in a couple of years from now titled something like Mega Python vs. Super Hyena...you heard it here first!
Didn't your mother ever teach you to chew with your mouth closed!?  All media was generously donated by Jos Bakker and his travel companions. 

9 comments:

dee said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing. I would have bet the farm that the snake would have lost that battle. Can you haunt the dens for a while to make sure all the cub's moms are still around?

Hadley said...

I am utterly speechless. I mean, sure, intellectually, I knew they were capable of swallowing large animals but it's another thing altogether to see it happen. How did the snake manage to get enough of itself around the hyena to start the strangulation, I wonder?

Brota Jkay said...

Very nice to see (Y)

I,ve heard about several cases of Pythons preying on Larger Carnivors such as Leopards

but had never seen any proof Untill Now (Y)

Anonymous said...

Nice writeup. A note about constrictor snakes though, they don't kill prey by strangulation, they do so using cardiac arrest. They squeeze prey hard enough to stop the flow of blood to the victim's brain which is why the prey loses consciousness quickly. It's actually a much faster death than by strangulation.

http://www.livescience.com/51639-boa-constrictor-snakes-prey.html

I keep snakes as pets, including some of the giant pythons and an anaconda. While they are awesome pets they do need to be treated with respect and care.

Nora said...

Have you guys considered starting a Twitter account? The hyena researchers in the Ngorongoro Crater have an account that's pretty sweet: @HyenaProject. Looks like @MSUHyenas is available...

Michael Kowalski said...

Thanks for the clarification!

Michael Kowalski said...

We certainly will, every day and night!

Michael Kowalski said...

We can't match the spots to any of the natal animals, so the leading hypothesis is young immigrant male who had left his territory for the first time (so unfamiliar with the lay of the land) and went to sack out in a cool, water-filled lugga beside a small, cement bridge with culvert pipes underneath. If the python was lying in wait there, it would've had a good shot at a successful ambush and perhaps landing a strike in the head-neck-chest region.

Michael Kowalski said...

That's an interesting idea, we'll see what we can do. Thanks for the handle idea!


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