Mike Unwin
United Kingdom GB
Jul 4, 2015 July 4, 2015

Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

Categories: Amazing Wildlife Encounters, Traveler Stories

A Snake in the Grass

Mike Unwin describes how a dusk stroll along a game trail in South Africa’s Pongola Reserve led to a close encounter with a very large python.

An encounter at dusk

“Stop,” said my wife. “A huge snake!” It was dusk and we were in Pongola Reserve, near South Africa’s border with Swaziland. We were following an old game trail down towards Lake Jozini. My wife had been walking a few metres behind me and was now staring intently at the stretch of trail along which I had just walked. Seeing nothing, I started to make my way back towards her, but she held up a hand to halt me. She pointed at the ground.

At last I could make out what she was trying to show me: the head of a python. Perfectly camouflaged, it was protruding from the long grass beside the trail. Its neck was coiled in a tight S-shape, ready to strike when a suitable victim passed by. A true snake in the grass.

Slithering in the grass

I was amazed. Clearly I had walked right over this snake without even seeing it. And it was a monster: the head was nearly the size of my hand, indicating that this must be a very large adult. I stepped forward to take a closer look, whilst my wife signaled frantically that I should keep my distance. The python pulled back, its head withdrawing into the grass, and I could hear a sliding and rustling as the hidden coils rearranged themselves.

Bending down for a closer peek I could see glimpses of what looked like gleaming car tires. I just had to get a proper look at this beauty. I hunted around for a long enough stick and returned to prod cautiously into the thicket. Nothing happened. I prodded again.

The coils began to shift. I prodded a third time, and we both leapt back as five metres of python came pouring out of the grass onto the trail. And, at serious speed, the snake in the grass disappeared around the bend towards the refuge of the lake. We heard a splash as the coils hit the water.

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