Pangolin at Zibadianja Camp

Jul 6, 2008 |   |   | 
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Location: Zibadianja, Selinda Reserve
Date: 16 June 2008
Observers: Ilana Stein, Caroline Culbert

It was a warm, cloudy day when we visited Zibadianja Camp in the Selinda Reserve, and so far game viewing had been very good yielding impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, guineafowl, and elephant. A herd of 1 500 - 2 000 buffalo was truly an amazing sight.

Our generally quiet morning suddenly became exciting when we off-roaded to where Dukes, a Zibadianja guide, had tracked the Selinda Pride - all 12 (2 males, 3 females, 5 juvenile males and 2 juvenile females) - who were all very alert and attempted to attack a small herd of buffalo. The latter bunched up and the situation ended in a stalemate - still, an amazing interaction to watch.

The game drive that afternoon began well. We headed off to see the two Selinda Brothers - cheetah siblings that Gordie and Dukes had spotted on their way back from the airstrip with guests earlier on. We found them lying nonchalantly on a termite mound, showing off their photogenic skills. It was a very close sighting but we eventually left them to see if we could find the lions for two new guests on the vehicle.

However the lions would have to wait. On the way, Gordon spotted a small brown mound shuffling through the grass a few metres away from the road. He gave a yelp, echoed by those of us who realised what this was, and whirled the vehicle around to stop next to what was undeniably and thrillingly a pangolin! The beast tried to waddle off but to no avail; he (unless it was a she) had some very excited people around him so he just curled his snout under him and pretended he was a large artichoke. But it was too late, we had realised we were looking at a once-in-a-lifetime sighting.

Pangolins are found in Asia and Africa, but there is only one species to be found in southern Africa - the Temminck's or Ground Pangolin (Manis temmincki). It is covered with hard scales of the nail material keratin (which is why it resembles a giant artichoke), feeds on termites, is secretive, nocturnal, small and endangered - hence the almost impossibility of seeing one and hence the excitement.

It's also meant to be good luck to see one according to local lore, so the other guides who were in the area came to spend time with it, bringing their excited guests with them. As the sun set, we all stood looking at this amazing creature that occasionally would allow us a glance of a face with a long snout and bleary eyes. After a while we left him to waddle determinedly off into the grass. We turned around and returned to camp, all feeling immensely satisfied with such an incredible sighting.

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