29 Sep 2015 The Magical Pangolin
There are many things that excite rangers. Everyday brings new adventures and stories to tell. We still get goose bumps from seeing the same lions we saw two days ago interacting in a different way.
We recently had the pleasure of hosting a lovely family in the Zindoga Villa for a few days. On their first night, we had an incredible sighting of a small-spotted genet as it ran across the road in front of us and made its way through the grass towards a marula tree. As we were watching this curious little creature, he suddenly made his way up towards the topmost branches of the tree. It is usually very rare to see one of these animals so relaxed, as they usually disappear as quickly as they’re spotted. He jumped from branch to branch, trying to find a morsel to eat. We sat for a few more minutes before the genet scurried down the trunk and disappeared into the dark Kapama Game Reserve night.
The following evening, we headed off into the sunset in search of more Camp Jabulani wildlife. There were a few lions and their cubs close to camp and I knew that my guests would really enjoy seeing them. As we drove towards the cats, stopping to look at a couple of owls along the way, one of the guides from The H.E.S.C guides, Franco, called in the sighting of a pangolin. I could hear the excitement in his voice over the radio. As a guide I could completely relate, as pangolins don’t show themselves often at all!
Pangolins are small mammals, primarily nocturnal and are marked by large, hardened, overlapping plate-like scales. The scales are soft on newborn pangolins, but harden as the animal gets older. They and their tetrapod claws are made of keratin – the same material as human fingernails and rhino horn.
They feast on termites that they dig out of termite mounds with their long, extremely strong claws. Once they’ve broken through the outer walls of the mound, they stick their specially adapted, sticky, saliva lathered tongues down into the holes, catching the termites before swallowing them. Their really long tongues are believed to start in their abdomens!
Pangolins usually live in burrows of old termite mounds or in the hollows of trees. They are solitary creatures, only coming together to mate or to care for their young (a mother will care for her offspring for around two years). These animals are under serious threat, as they are often killed for their scales and are losing their habitat due to deforestation.
My guests were in awe as we spent time watching the pangolin. We spoke about how their strong armour protects them from even the mightiest bite, and how they roll up in self-defense when necessary.
After we had all taken a few pictures of the little critter up close, we sat in silence and patiently waited for him to unroll and move off. It always fascinates me to watch how they move with such heavy scales.
As the Pangolin moved off into the night, I turned to my guests, put my camera back into my case and with a huge smile on my face, I said, “A sighting like that is what makes Africa so magical!”