The Ground Pangolin, or scaly ant-eater Manis temminckii, is one of four species of Pangolin found in Africa and is by far the most common in Southern Africa, (if common can be a word used in conjunction with pangolin.) They are by far one of the most difficult animals to spot. I have been actively in the Bush now for three years and have only seen one; the lions were trying to eat it and it had curled itself up into a protective ball giving only its hard outer scales to the hungry lions, which quickly gave up as these scales are almost impenetrable. A friend of mine has worked all over Southern Africa for the better part of 15 years and has NEVER seen one. They tend to occupy burrows in old termite mounds and are nocturnal, which adds to the elusiveness of this creature.
Pangolins eat mainly termites and ants. The tongue is roughly 50 cm long and is held in a pouch in the mouth until needed for feeding. Underneath its hard scales is a soft underside that must be protected at all costs. If not rolled into a ball, the scales on the tail can be used to slash at attackers, as they are very sharp. The young, while small, will ride upon the mothers tail. Pangolin can grow up to 1 meter in length and is endangered in most of Southern Africa and Africa in general. The scales are used as love charms and they are highly susceptible to death in yearly fires. Pangolin are also found dead wrapped around the lower parts of electric fences that surround private and public game reserves in South Africa.
If perchance you are to view one of these spectacular little creatures while on game drive, please do remember just how special a sighting it is even though it is not part of the Big 5, the Small 5, or the Ugly 5. Trust me; your ranger will be so excited when he or she spots it that the uniqueness of the situation will not escape you. Happy Spotting!
Story by:Noelle Di Lorenzo-Kapama River Lodge Ranger