April 2021

The return of the pangolin

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The return of the pangolin

Many people have heard of the elusive pangolin but very few have ever seen one in the wild, including some guides who spend hours every day on safari! Until fairly recently the pangolin was steeped in mystery, to both scientists and naturalists alike. With the illicit trade of their meat and highly sought-after scales becoming exposed in recent years, much more awareness has been raised about this unusual and shy group of animals and thus more funding has become available for the study and protection of them. There are eight species of pangolin in the world, four of which occurs in Africa. In the South African lowveld and at Singita Kruger National Park, Temminck’s ground pangolin is what we dream of finding on safari, and showing to our guests.

The last pangolin that was seen at Singita Kruger National Park was in January 2020 - over a year ago. About four weeks ago when out on morning game drive, my tracking partner Howard’s right hand shot up from the front of the car, meaning that he had seen tracks and wanted me to stop. He turned around in his tracking seat and with excited raised eyebrows peering over his mask said one of the most exciting words a person could hear on safari: “Khwari”, the pangolin. 

I hopped out of the car and had a look with Howard. Sure enough, right by my feet were the clear and fresh tracks, the bi-pedal gait being unmistakeable. Here and there was a drag mark of its long scaly tail and scuff marks where the front claws, carried tucked up under the chest, had grazed the ground. I urged my guests to hop off from the vehicle and have a look, explaining to them what a significant find this was. We followed the tracks for a while and noticed that they ran to a low row of hills. The grass was very tall and the ground very rocky so we soon lost the faint tracks. Later one of the trackers, Glass Marimane, tracked it for a while but also soon lost it in the broken terrain.

In the following days and weeks we saw the tracks again in the same area, and also tracks of another, larger pangolin further north in the reserve. Now the tracks are seen every couple of days and I believe it’s only a matter of time before some lucky group on drive finds the rare and elusive pangolin!

Walter Mabilane
By Walter Mabilane
Field Guide