The Year of the Pangolin

Normally you do not organize a bush outing to find pangolins, although some people may do (maybe me… the bush snob?), you never know! So, I have never seen one, not even a footprint. As someone that grew up in the land of the gauchos, I have often come across armadillos, so being the pangolin the nearest mammal to look somehow like them in Africa, you may understand my interest in finding one. Besides, they are extremely interesting animals about which -and their conservation status in Africa- I know very little. The CITES cites (sorry about the pun) them in Appendix 2: “species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with the survival of the species in the wild.”), not very encouraging if you wish to find one.

What is a pangolin? It is a a very small mammal -if compared with an elephant- but about the size of a hare, covered with large scales and suited with a longish scaly tail and a very long tongue (but very long compared with his body length) that he needs to get hold of his deeply dwelling termite and ant diet. It rolls into a ball if in danger and this may offer some protection against many predators although I do not see it surviving hungry large ones or humans.

The pangolin has another piece of bad luck, it is highly regarded in African culture and when one is found, it is given to Chiefs and other important authorities, including Heads of State. In addition, they are killed for their meat and scales throughout their range. You would agree with me that their present and future does not look good.

Clearly, the chances of finding and observing one (I prefer to observe rather than to photograph) look rather bleak. This was the opinion I formed after many years traveling in the bush, day and night. However, this may not be the case. Recently we visited the Hippo Pools camp in the shores of the Mazowe river (this will be the subject of another post) in the Umfurudzi Park (www.umfurudzipark.co.zw/). This jewel of a camp (and park) are doing well and, while returning from our stay, a park brochure offered the possibility of “Pangolin Tracking”. Although it does not specify the nature of these, the name gives me hope!

To add to the coincidence, a few weeks later, reading the Harare News of June 2014 I came across an article describing a trust that -among other projects- does work to protect pangolins in Southern Africa!  It is known as the “Tikki Hywood Trust” (www.tikkihywoodtrust.org).  In their web page I learnt that there are eight species worldwide and that they are the most traded animal in Asia these days. A bit more web research taught me that there are three pangolin species in Africa: Giant Ground Pangolin (Manis gigantea), African White-Bellied Pangolin (Manis tricuspis) and the Common Pangolin (Manis temminckii) distributed throughout Africa (http://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/pangolin). Three species, and I have not seen one individual!!!

My pangolin hopes are now up and,  who knows, 2014 may be the Year of the Pangolin for me!

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