A pangolin is a prehistoric-looking mammal with large keratin scales covering its skin. It uses its well-developed sense of smell to find insects. It’s a nocturnal animal, which makes spotting it on a game drive during daylight, extremely difficult, as it spends most of the day curled up into a ball, sleeping.
Many field guides never have the pleasure of viewing a pangolin in the wild and even fewer guests are lucky enough to get a glimpse of the elusive and shy creature. But according to Tswalu’s Conservation Director Gus van Dyk, Tswalu is probably the best place on earth to view pangolin because the open grasslands make them easier to find, particularly during winter when they emerge in daylight to search for ants and termites.
The proof of that is in the tales of pangolin sightings that our guides tell, and the pics that they have taken. We are posting some of these as a tribute to World Pangolin Day, which is celebrated today.
According to the website www.pangolins.org, “World Pangolin Day is an opportunity for pangolin enthusiasts to join together in raising awareness about these unique mammals — and their plight. Pangolin numbers are rapidly declining, particularly in Southeast Asia. However, pangolin trafficking is also a serious problem in the rest of Asia, as well as Africa.In 2012, an estimated 60,000 pangolins (based on seizures) were victims of the illegal wildlife trade.
“The demand for pangolins comes mostly from China, where pangolin scales are unfortunately believed to be a cure-all of sorts and pangolin flesh is considered a delicacy. In Vietnam, pangolins are frequently offered at restaurants catering to wealthy patrons who want to eat rare and endangered wildlife. There is no evidence to support claims regarding medicinal properties of pangolin scales or any other part of the pangolin.” Derived from the Malay word “peng-goling”, meaning “the roller”, the ground pangolin (manis temminckii) grows up to a metre in length and weighs between 5-15 kg. Its body is covered by large keratin scales, which is the same material as human fingernails.
Says field guide Barry Peiser: “The pangolin is nocturnal, which means that it is active in the summer months in the evenings. In winter, the nights in the Kalahari are very cold, so these unusual creatures become crepuscular, which means they are active early in the mornings and late in the afternoons.
“They feed on ants and termites which they dig up. They have a keen sense of smell and powerful front legs for digging, which they actually hardly ever walk on as their weight is balanced between the tail and the remainder of the body. “The pangolin defends itself from potential predators by rolling into a ball so that its firm scales cover and protect its body. Unfortunately for guests on safari, it has the ability to disappear into the grass and shrub vegetation very quickly and easily.”