South Africa's Kruger National Park has played host to some truly thrilling wildlife encounters (remember this? how about this?). But it's not often that reptiles take centre stage in the action ...

While on an early morning game drive in the northern reaches of the Kruger Park earlier this year, tourist Helen Young spotted an odd-looking shape writhing in the road some distance in front of her. As she approached, the shape took on a more identifiable form: a rock monitor (Varanus albigularis) in the throes of battle with a snouted cobra (Naja annulifera).

When Young arrived on the scene, the snouted cobra – one of Africa's largest cobra species and normally a night-time hunter – had already embedded its fangs firmly in the lizard's abdomen. The rock monitor, meanwhile, unwilling to readily succumb to its assailant was trudging determinedly down the road – the effects of the snake's predominantly neurotoxic venom labouring its gait. 

Snouted cobras have a varied diet that consists of toads, birds (and their eggs), rodents, lizards, and other snakes – particularly puff adders. In rural areas, they often raid poultry runs and can become a nuisance for farmers. Their venom is a deadly blend of neurotoxic and cytotoxic compounds that if injected causes tissue damage, respiratory failure and eventually death. 

“As time went on I could see that the lizard was flagging. It had clear bite wounds in its neck and it was covered in venom,” Young told Latest Sightings. Despite this, the monitor managed to break free from the snake's jaws a few times during the ordeal, but was quickly recaptured by the cobra.

Eventually, the arrival of a second vehicle sent the snake slithering under Young's car and out of sight. She stayed with the rock monitor for a while eager to see what the final outcome would be. "The lizard remained motionless in the road except for a couple of flicks of its tongue."

It's not uncommon for snouted cobras to take on rock monitors, herpetologist Johan Marais tells us, but without any immunity to snake venom it's unlikely that this lizard would have survived. We only hope that the snake came back to claim its meal.

Kingsnake Lizard Related 2016 09 15

Top header image: Steve Harris/Flickr