Shocking moment an African python swallows an entire
WILDEBEEST caught on camera for the first time
Gruesome snaps catch largest-known prey eaten by African python
The reptile stretched its incredible jaws round a hefty wildebeest calf
Game reserve manager Rudi Hulshof 'speechless' at rare sighting
20:35 GMT, 5 December 2012
This is the incredibly rare moment an African python was caught on camera trying to eat an entire wildebeest.
The massive snake looked like its eyes were bigger than its belly when it was discovered in the South African bush swallowing the massive meal.
It is thought to be the first time this behaviour has been caught on camera as the python – which can grow up to 16 foot – was believed to try for much smaller prey.
The gruesome encounter was photographed at the Welgevonden Game Reserve, South Africa, by manager Rudi Hulshof.
The incredible elasticity of the python's jaws is clear in this grisly shot
These are the first known photographs of a python taking on such large prey
The powerful reptiles usually target smaller animals such as rabbits
Rudi, 35, said: 'This was the first time I had ever seen something like this, and I have been working as a game ranger for 15 years already in South Africa, and have also travelled to other African Countries.
'This is an incredibly rare sighting, and is by my knowledge the first time that it has been recorded, let alone photographed and documented that a Southern African python catches prey as big as the blue wildebeest, albeit a wildebeest calf.
'Herpetologists I have consulted are all impressed, and dumbfounded by the images when they have seen them.
'It is not uncommon for pythons to catch live mammal prey, but this would usually consist of smaller species like hares, rabbits, impala lambs, duiker antelope, squirrels, birds, rats, cane rats and rodents etc.
'But to have managed something so big is mind boggling. This can be seen by how the python needed to really stretch its mouth to the limits to try and swallow the prey.
'I have been photographing wildlife for the past 15 years while I have been working in the industry, at various lodges and game reserves spread around South Africa.'
Game reserve manager Rudi Hulshof said seeing the python eat the wildebeest left him 'speechless'
Rudi said he came across the unusual encounter quite by chance while actually looking for lions and leopards.
He said: 'I decided to investigate the area in the afternoon arriving at the spot where the alarm calls were heard hours before, I stopped and scanned the area with my binoculars, seeing only a few scattered Wildebeest, and a herd of Impala.
'The impala were staring down the back of a ridge drop off about 150 metres away, and it was enough for me to think there could have been a leopard or pride of lions feeding on something just out of sight.
'I took my rifle, left the guests on the vehicle and walked in to try and establish if it was in fact what I thought, and if I would be able to walk clients in safely to view the action.'
A gruesome close-up shows just how wide the reptile can stretch its jaws to consume its prey
He added: 'I however found nothing, and just as I turned to return to my guests, I saw this snake lying on the ground. Moving closer I saw that it was swallowing the Wildebeest calf, aged about two months old.
'I almost could not believe what I was seeing, and being someone normally really composed, my guests must have thought the worst, because I sprinted back to the road as fast as my legs would allow.
'I simply had to retrieve my camera and get pictures, and allow my guests to get pictures, before the sun set, which was only a few minutes away.
'I just told the guests to follow me with their own cameras, not letting the secret out just yet, and led them to the sighting.
'We watched for about 30 minutes, before descending darkness forced us to leave, and return to the car, all speechless at what we had just witnessed.
'We returned the following morning, first thing, but found nothing. No tracks, no scuff marks, no python and no prey. Everything was gone, and because it had rained, we could not read any tracks to see which way the snake may have slithered off.'
African pythons are the largest snakes found on the continent
The next morning all traces of the python and its prey had disappeared