The pangolin, despite its heady status as the world’s most trafficked animal, remains a fairly unknown creature to most of us.
For those that don’t know, there are eight species of pangolin in the world, with four being found on the African continent, and they occupy their own taxonomic order, Pholidata. Also known as scaly anteaters, they are descended from carnivores and feed exclusively on a diet of ants and termites. They have no teeth, incredibly long sticky tongues, and ears that seal up to prevent those creepy crawlies getting inside! The name pangolin derives from the animal’s Malaysian name ‘peng-goling’ which means ‘the roller’. Pangolins are covered in tough keratin scales which act very much like armour. If they encounter any danger their first reaction is to roll into a ball with their scales creating an impenetrable exterior sphere which they maintain until the danger has passed.
There is only one species of pangolin in South Africa, the Temminck’s ground pangolin or Smutsia temmickii if you want to get technical about it. Garonga has a pretty good record as far as pangolins go. We are fortunate to confirm that there is a minimum of three resident pangolins on the property. So you can imagine my excitement when I started working at Garonga in June 2018 and went twice daily on games drives, being wholly convinced that I was on my way to see my first ever pangolin.
At the start of each drive, my tracker and I would confidently announce that we were on our way to find ourselves a pangolin; although I have a sneaking suspicion some of the tracking team might have been humouring me! Yet slowly the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and, sadly, we had yet to see this elusive animal. This is not necessarily surprising as pangolins are the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the guide’s rainbow. They are infamously tricky to find; there are guides who have spent 20 years working in the bush having never seen this shy and retiring creature.
So when Bongi and I were chasing around after a leopard at the beginning of last October and came across fresh pangolin tracks the excitement was palpable. Well, at least it was for Bongi and me, as the guests’ expressions seemed to suggest they were hoping that after a 10-minute hike through the bush for something a little showier than a fairly nondescript squashed circle in the red African dust.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Bongi is a member of our tracking team known affectionately as ‘The Man with the Magical Eyes’. So, on another afternoon drive in late October, when Bongi called out “What’s that?”, I chuckled and pulled out my binoculars; if Bongi couldn’t identify whatever it was without them, I certainly wasn’t going to be able to. I asked Bongi where we were looking and started a casual scan of the area. On the tracker seat ahead of me, Bongi began to squint and muttered ‘pangolin’.
I asked Bongi where we were looking and started a casual scan of the area. On the tracker seat ahead of me, Bongi began to squint and muttered ‘pangolin’ again. At that point, I was doing a passable impression of a spinning top – binos firmly glued to my face, calling out “Where are we looking?!”. Then my scan took me to my right where I saw it, or more accurately them. That’s right folks, our first pangolin sighting was also our second pangolin sighting. Right before our eyes was a female carrying her youngster on her back!
Written by Sophie Barrett, Guide at Garonga Safari Camp
Garonga Guides Photo Comp
Towards the end of 2018, Garonga had its photo competition between its guides and trackers. This competition originally came about to try and encourage the team to add photographic knowledge to their suite of skills which of course can be very useful for guiding especially when you have keen photographers as guests. It helps the team to think about light, angles, unusual shots for guests etc. Bernie invested in a new lodge camera around July last year and was keen to find a way to encourage the team to use it and get to grips with it hence the birth of the competition. The only condition to the competition was that the prize would be shared equally between the guide and tracker, often the photo would be a result of a sighting that the tracker was integral to finding so it was a competition of the teams! Other than that there were no rules as to what could be entered. At the beginning of the year, we went through each guides photos and each guide chose their own submissions – which was surprisingly difficult, probably a credit to how well the team has been using the new camera!
First place image was taken by Sophie (guide) and Bongi (tracker) while at the above-mentioned pangolin sighting:
Second place image was also taken by Sophie: