Sometimes the best wildlife sightings happen when you least expect them ...

On a recent game drive in the southern section of South Africa's Kruger National Park, tourist Nazeem Mohammed was enjoying the playful antics of a family of warthogs, when "in true Kruger fashion", something completely unexpected happened. A quartet of warthog piglets suddenly scampered across the gravel road, fleeing from a martial eagle that had swooped in to claim its quarry, nabbing one of the mini-hogs while the rest of the siblings scattered to safety.

Although capturing a hunt like this on camera is rare, martial eagles are the largest of Africa's raptors and can easily take down sizeable prey. Their diet varies regionally, but usually on the menu are small mammals such as hares, antelope or young primates. They will also feed on other birds as well as reptiles.

After securing the piglet in its talons, the eagle got to work dispatching its prey, a task that is often drawn-out and grisly. Accipitrids (eagles, hawks, kites, harriers, etc.) have weaker bites than falcons and no "teeth" to tear at their prey, so their preferred method of killing is suffocation. Armed with a pair of remarkably large talons on their first and second toes, accipitrids are able to anchor their bounty and subdue even the most powerful prey. Once the animal tires, sharp claws quickly finish the job.

Bigger meals are often too heavy to be hauled to the safety of the treetops, so large eagles like martials often feast on the ground. To help avoid losing their hard-earned meals to thieving scavengers, accipitrids may use their wings to shield their prey in a behaviour known as "mantling". In this position, the wings are spread and slumped to the ground, revealing the bird's upper back, called the mantle, which gives the posture its name. Mantling is often accompanied by regular bouts of nervous scanning as the bird checks to make sure there are no threats approaching.

In this case, a second vehicle moved in too rapidly, startling the vulnerable eagle and causing it to temporarily abandon its meal (ProTip: don't get too close to a mantling raptor). Fortunately, the martial returned some time later to retrieve its prey and, after doing so, awkwardly hobbled off into the bushveld to enjoy the spoils.

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Top header image: Ken Clifton/Flickr