By Kavi Naidoo
The perfect start to this morning sipping on some freshly brewed coffee and listening to the first calls of the francolin as we all anticipated sunrise to warm us up from the crispiness of the chilly evening. As we made our way toward the Boteti river to launch the Mokoros for the first tours. We were treated to a rare and spectacular sighting of 2 large pythons with their entire brood of up to 18 young. They moved slowly and calmy across the pathway and settled in between the abundant Moghotsi bushes of the property. They spent the entire day slowly shifting positions to absorb sunlight and also to stay hidden from any threats. It is documented that the mother would show maternal care through the incubation phase and up to two weeks after her young hatch. It has never been found that the male would stick around during this time. It was very unusual to witness this. We take this sighting as a blessing to our property and hope that these pythons would remain there for as long as they please.
Like all pythons, the African rock python is non-venomous and kills by constriction. After gripping the prey, the snake coils around it, tightening its coils every time the victim breathes out. Death is thought to be caused by cardiac arrest rather than by asphyxiation or crushing. The African rock python feeds on a variety of large rodents, monkeys, warthogs, antelopes, vultures, fruit bats, monitor lizards, crocodiles, and more in forest areas, and on rats, poultry, dogs, and goats in suburban areas. It will sometimes take fish as well. Occasionally, it may eat the cubs of big cats such as leopards, lions, and cheetahs, cubs of hyenas, and puppies of wild dogs such as jackals and Cape hunting dogs. However, these encounters are very rare, as the adult cats can easily kill pythons or fend them off. On March 1, 2017, a 3.9-m (12-ft. 10-in) African rock python was filmed eating a small adult female spotted hyena weighing 50 kg (120 lb). This encounter suggests that the snake might very well be capable of hunting and killing larger and more dangerous animals than previously thought. The largest ever recorded meal of any snake was when a 4.9m African Rock Python consumed a 59-kg impala.
Reproduction occurs in the spring. African rock pythons are oviparious, laying between 20 and 100 hard-shelled, elongated eggs in an old animal burrow, termite mound, or cave. The female shows a surprising level of maternal care, coiling around the eggs, protecting them from predators, and possibly helping to incubate them, until they hatch around 90 days later. The female guards the hatchlings for up to two weeks after they hatch from their eggs to protect them from predators in a manner unusual for snakes in general and pythons in particular.
Hatchlings are between 45 and 60 cm (17.5 and 23.5 in) in length and appear virtually identical to adults, except with more contrasting colours. Individuals may live over 12 years in captivity.