Klaserie River Sands

Special sighting: Ground-hornbill versus snake

Southern ground-hornbill with twig snake in Kruger National Park

© Samuel Cox

Written and photographs by Samuel Cox

After visiting and travelling to Africa so many times, it’s hard to recall or even separate favourite sightings. I stand by that each sighting is unique and should never be compared to another, they’re products of the animal, the environment, the timing and the emotions you’re feeling at the time and as I’ve talked about before; a great sighting doesn’t mean a great photographic opportunity and vice versa. However, you do get those moments where everything converges into one moment to create a truly special sighting and my most recent trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa will be held in my heart for as long as I live.

Southern ground-hornbill in a tree in Kruger

© Samuel Cox

It was a weekend trip through the south of Kruger with friends and we had been lucky to see Big 5 on both days, but there’s always a rush of excitement when something crosses our path – like a southern ground-hornbill.

There were a few marauding in the grass right next to the road, completely relaxed with our presence and focused on finding food. One stepped out into the road, about a metre from our vehicle and was eyeing up the top of a nearby tree. It suddenly took flight, soaring up to the top of the tree before momentarily gliding back down – at first it seemed the bird overestimated the stability of this tree, but then it danced forward and alongside our car. It had knocked down a twig snake and was now about to finish the job.

Southern ground-hornbill subduing a snake

© Samuel Cox

It plucked it up and continued to thrash the snake around, with its beak clamped strategically and tight below the head. For about two minutes the snake tried its best to get out of the hold, but to no avail. The hornbill, now no more than two metres from my window, had finished killing its meal and then quickly swallowed the snake whole. In those two-and-a-half minutes I manically clicked away for nearly two hundred photos, not wanting to miss a beat of the action and by the end everyone in the car couldn’t believe what we had just seen.

Southern ground-hornbill makes quick work eating a snake

© Samuel Cox

People go to Kruger on the chase for the Big Five, but we left buzzing due to a short but sweet ground-hornbill sighting that easily trumped everything else we’ve seen this year. It’s a testament to how special and unique every creature is and a reminder to think twice before easily driving past something just because it wouldn’t be pinned on a sightings board – you never know what you’re going to see at any given moment, and that’s the beauty of Kruger.

Southern ground-hornbill enjoying his snake dinner

© Samuel Cox

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  • Jenny Carless

    Great photos, Samuel!

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