By Mark McConville
INCREDIBLE action shots have captured Nile crocodiles feasting down on a pelican supper after sneaking up on the unsuspecting birds.
The stunning pictures show a large group of storks and pelicans flocking on the water as the top of the 12-foot-long deadly predators lurking below are just visible above the surface.
Other striking snaps show one large 400lb crocodile suddenly bursting into life as it successfully snatches a pelican and chows down on its well-earned meal.
The amazing encounter was captured at Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique by ecologist and photographer Jen Guyton.
“The dry season was tightening its grip,” she said.
“The desperation of some species, like fish confined to ever-shrinking pools, led to opportunities for others: birds and crocodiles gathered together at the lingering Msicadzi River in a tense truce, trawling captive fish from dawn to dusk.
“The truce was apparent: to the feeding storks, the crocs were like rocks, avoided but not feared. Tiny egrets fluttered and dipped just in front of a crocodile’s maw, snagging fish that were startled by the reptile.
“A croc lunged at a fish, slapping the water suddenly with its jaws, and the birds nearby leaped and dropped like rebounding water droplets, then resumed their hunt as though nothing had happened.
“And suddenly, there was a thundering splash and the pelicans belly-flopped back into the water. This time, the birds had barely broken the surface when they jolted away as if shocked by an electrical current. Some fled, sailing up and over the trees. Others stood on the shore, wings extended nervously, glancing side to side, tense as a coiled spring.
“One pelican remained in the black glassy water, floating askew, its white wing in the air. Lifelessly the pile of whitish feathers glided toward the nearest bank. It was a few moments before I realised what had happened, when a blackish sawtoothed ridge breached the surface. He had been waiting for them – a male crocodile the length of a car, ancient, impossibly silent. The storks fished on, unfazed, while the pelicans still stood stunned.”
The large crocodile struggled to swallow his pelican meal and part of it was eventually stolen by a smaller croc.
“With pelican wings dangling from the corners of his mouth like an odd winged head, the croc hauled half out of the water and began the task of swallowing his prey,” added Jen.
“Throwing his head back and forth, he tried to guide the limp bird down his enormous throat. But with its long wings and heavy head, the pelican flopped about, catching in the corners of his mouth and refusing to go down. It wasn’t long before the smaller crocs realised what was going on.
“They surrounded him, snapping at his jaws, tossing sharp teeth, seizing mouthfuls of feathers and tossing them back like potato chips. The big croc shoved through them and swam downstream, wings still dangling, five or six smaller crocs in pursuit.
“For the next two hours, I watched the croc swim steadily up and down the short stretch of river, pelican wings dragging. Each time he gained distance from the others, he paused, gulping desperately.
“And each time, a wing got in the way. His pursuers caught up and surrounded him while he seemed to grow evermore desperate. Eventually, a small croc gripped the pelican’s yellow bill, and with a fierce tug pulled the bird’s head from its body. In seconds, the bill had disappeared down the small croc’s throat.
“It was a hidden blessing for the big croc: his food more streamlined, he gulped the headless bird down, its wings folding backward as he swallowed it whole.”
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