For those of you who have visited MalaMala main camp, you will remember that there is a water feature as you drive in through the gates. Alongside said water feature, there is a tree – a fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea) to be more specific. This tree acts as the foundation for a number of nests which are built every year, by the smallest species of weaver – the lesser masked weaver (Ploceus velatus). These birds are a common resident in woodland/savanna environments, which breed between August and March, with the peak breeding season being between October and January.
During this breeding season, these birds will build their small woven nests, with short to medium length entrance in trees, such as the fever tree in front of main camp. Often, one will hear these birds calling to one another – however, not always are these calls of a social nature but to purely communicate that of the presence of a predator, such as snakes.
One day, there were very shrill and anxious calls from the residents of our fever tree and upon further inspection it was found that their households were being invaded. The culprit, a boomslang (Dispholidus typus). These diurnal (active during the day), arboreal (tree dwelling) snakes reach an average of between 1.2 and 1.5 meters in length, and are considered very dangerous due to their potent heamotoxic venom. Often confused with a number of other snakes, as they have the widest variation of colour morphs – the distinguishing factors are the strongly ridged scales, a short ‘stubby’ head with enormous eyes.
While the adult weavers managed to escape the attack of this predator, some of the younger and flightless individuals were not so lucky. Ranger James Moodie managed to capture the aftermath of the boomslang’s invasion.
Pictures: James Moodie
Text: Dave Landey