The Cape Pangolin is a small mammal covered in tough scales that consists of keratin like human hair and nails. These scales serve to protect the animal as they roll into a ball to the head and soft belly on the inside. They feed on ants and termites, hence the nickname “scaly anteaters”. They have a very long, sticky tongue that is able to lap up the termites and ants in small cavities. The tongue is attached near the pelvis and last pair of ribs and when it is extended, it’s longer than the body and head. When retracted, the tongue will rest in a sheath in the chest cavity. They also have strong claws on the front feet that enable them to dig into the nests of their prey and to dig holes to rest and sleep in.
Because of poaching for illegal wildlife trade and habitat destruction, these amazing animals have become one of the most endangered mammals in the world. They are so rare that it is unknown how long they can live in the wild, but have been recorded to survive up to 20 years in captivity.
They have very poor eyesight and locate their food by a strong sense of smell. Thus pangolins can forage for insects even in the pitch black darkness, when lions and leopards become inactive. Very little is known about the pangolins behavior as they are nocturnal and very secretive. They are known to have special muscles to close the nostrils and ears to protect against attacking insects. They also have a big appetite and serve as a natural form of pest control as one adult pangolin can eat up to 70 million ants and termites per year.
Story by Jacques (River Lodge)