Many people visit South Africa's Kruger National Park with hopes of seeing the "big five": lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos. But one of the vast park's most ferocious animals comes in a slightly smaller package: the mongoose.
While on vacation in Kruger last June, South African Delia Bronkhorst saw a mongoose jumping at and biting a much larger, dangling snake. Her video shows the snake tangled in tree branches, its head hanging down toward the ground. A mongoose repeatedly tries to pull the snake loose, making its head progressively bloodier.
According to Bronkhorst, this went on for nearly five minutes, so long that she stopped filming, assuming they wouldn't see the mongoose successfully loosen its prey. Just as they prepared to drive away, the snake dropped.
Bronkhorst and her mother, who was also on the trip, couldn't see what the mongoose did next. The grass was too high and they weren't allowed to veer from the path. But they assumed the mongoose feasted on its prey.
"It was quite unbelievable to watch," she said. "They really are quite fierce little animals."
When Kruger staff initially published the video on the park YouTube page, they wrote that the mongoose was swinging the snake as if it were merely playing with it.
"I'd say the mongoose is definitely trying to predate on the snake," said Jennifer Sanderson, a science teacher and mongoose expert. "Most mongoose species will kill and eat snakes so that is not an unusual thing to come across." (See how one mongoose stands up to a cobra.)
Kathleen Alexander, a Virginia Tech professor and National Geographic explorer, agrees. She believes the mongoose in Bronkhorst's video is a Selous' mongoose, which typically operate as solitary hunters, and that the snake is a venomous black mamba. Other species of mongoose will hunt in packs and even defend themselves from predators by banding together, in what Alexander described as "one amorphous unit."
Mambas can often be found in trees, and audacious mongoose frequently prey on these dangerous animals by climbing up after them. It's even likely the snake in the video was already killed by the mongoose up in the tree before the mammal began its laborious effort to yank it down to the ground.
While mambas have an intimidating reputation, it's perhaps the mongoose that often has the upper hand in a battle between the two. Mongooses have mutated cells that block the mambas' neurotoxins from entering their bloodstream. This makes them capable of surviving the venomous snake's deadly bite.
"I imagine the mongoose had a tasty afternoon snack," said Sanderson.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jenni Sanderson is a professor at the University of Exeter.