Safaris & stories
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel
Photographer of the Year 2021
Cape ground squirrel going up against Cape cobra
© Island Mobile Safaris

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is the largest game reserve in Southern Africa, and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world. Only a handful of people visit this vast tract of land in central Botswana in any given year. This is a harsh, sprawling terrain, dominated by grasslands. CKGR is home to giraffe, cheetah, lion, brown hyena, bat-eared foxes, jackal, painted wolf (wild dog), herds of gemsbok and springbok and more… all of which, with the exception of painted wolves, we were fortunate enough to see. The park is also home to an array of smaller creatures who are equally as interesting as their bigger ‘cousins’.

We were on a family safari with Island Mobile Safaris, driving through the sun-bleached terrain on CKGR one afternoon, when my eldest son suddenly called from the back seat of the game viewer. “What’s that snake doing?”

We came to a halt and peered under a bush not far from the edge of the track, and what we saw had us transfixed…

Cape ground squirrel going up against Cape cobra
© Island Mobile Safaris

A vivid, yellow Cape cobra and a Cape ground squirrel were acting out a scene that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the movie Fight Club. The squirrel, clearly a new mother, judging by her visible teats, was fighting tooth and nail with the cobra determined to keep the snake away from her nearby burrow.

‘Super squirrel’, as the group quickly named her, ducked and dived, feinting to the left and right, moving with such spectacular speed that sometimes she was nothing more than a blur. Her tail was raised and puffed out with markings that somewhat mirrored the snake’s face and hood, and which was clearly having a mesmerising effect on the cobra.

Cape ground squirrel going up against Cape cobra
© Island Mobile Safaris

Darting in to attack the cobra and retreating just in time to avoid the highly venomous fangs, the squirrel was determined and seemingly tireless. Pausing occasionally to nibble on a seed or tiny fruit, much like a long distance marathoner refuelling with an energy gel. The squirrel was clearly in control of the situation, relentlessly attacking the snake and wearing it down until the snake retreated up into the branches of a nearby bush for a brief respite, only coming down when it had ‘caught its breath’ again many minutes later.

This continued for thirty minutes or so. When the snake retreated into the shrub yet again we decided to give them a break and go further down the road to check out the whereabouts of some cheetah we had seen earlier in the day.

Cape ground squirrel biting Cape cobra's tail
© Island Mobile Safaris

Returning to the scene of the fight, twenty or thirty minutes later, we caught the final act in the drama. The snake, admitting defeat, was fleeing at speed. Slithering, somewhat dejectedly, across the landscape with the squirrel in hot pursuit, harrying it and darting in and out to administer a few last minute nips and bites… making sure the snake didn’t entertain any thoughts of returning any time soon.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the squirrel babies, tucked up safely underground, knew what a tenacious and determined mother they had, and how close they had come to being the cobra’s afternoon tea.

Watch the squirrel and cobra fight below (© Island Mobile Safaris)



Africa Geographic Travel
Sarah Kingdom

Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, before moving to Africa at the age of 21, Sarah Kingdom is a mountain climber and guide, traveller, yoga teacher, trail runner and mother of two. When she is not climbing she lives on a cattle ranch in central Zambia. She guides and runs trips regularly in India, Nepal, Tibet, Russia and Ethiopia, taking travellers up Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro numerous times a year.