Southern Ground Hornbill Kills Large Monitor Lizard

When we think of predators we immediately think lion, leopard and related animals. However the extent of predation was really brought home to me on June 29th 2006 when we were on our way home via Skukuza after 5 days in the Kruger based mainly at Satara camp.

Southern Ground Hornbill kills monitor lizard About 5 kms from the rest camp close to the Sabie River I could see a pair of Ground-Hornbills and one was behaving as if it was striking something repeatedly with its long sharp and strong bill. The Hornbill would lift its head and bring it down with some considerable force, arching its wings in the process presumably to get a greater thrust.

Initially it wasn't possible to see what was happening then suddenly it came into view ... a Monitor Lizard about 60 cms long was struggling to avoid the pounding. The Lizard was still alive but obviously in considerable distress and hardly able to fight back. Still the pounding continued. On a couple of occasions the Hornbill tried to lift the Monitor but it was far too heavy.

The second Hornbill was a disinterested spectator throughout the whole killing process.

Ground Hornbill pierces skin of monitor lizard The bill of the Hornbill finally pierced the tough skin covering of the lizard and the bird started to eat the the protruding entrails of the unfortunate creature. At this stage the second bird started to help itself to scraps of flesh also.

My wife was quite sickened by the process and could hardly watch and I had to remind her that what she was witnessing was real, it was the way of life in the Kruger. It was eat or be eaten for many animals.

Southern Ground Hornbill Kills Monitor Lizard It was nevertheless quite a startling episode of savagery and it was hard not to feel for the Monitor .... itself a magnificent creature who lived and survived by eating other animals and especially birds' eggs and small fledglings.

We just don't think of birds as serious predators of anything other than insects. But they are as this incident brought home in no uncertain terms.

A day earlier we had witnessed a Bateleur Eagle eat, in double quick time, a very long legged bird nestling.