Meeting my Pangolin!

By Payal Montague

Pangolins have always been in my top 3 animals! Pangolins, Narwhals, and Bonobos. A peculiar threesome, but animals that I’ve always found fascinating. Each one is extremely difficult to find, slightly odd looking, and lives in the wild corners of the world – I dreamt of seeing them all and clearly set the bar high from a young age!

On our recent tour to Namibia, our guests were offered the chance to visit the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) in Otjiwarongo. Led by its founder and director, Maria Diekmann, this wonderful organisation has been working since 2000 to conserve and protect some of the lesser-known wildlife in Namibia. Maria refers to these animals as the “Forgotten 5 plus 1” and considers that each requires special attention to ensure its survival. These animals are the Cape Griffon Vulture, Dwarf Python, African Wild/Painted Dog, Cape/Ground Pangolin, Damara Dik Dik and Spotted Rubber Frog – all unusual in their own way, but representative of the amazing biodiversity in Namibia.

So given the chance to join our guests and meet one of the rescued Pangolins, I seized the opportunity! Maria introduced us to the young Pangolin outside the visitor’s centre and instantly our group were hooked. Such a beautiful and unusual creature, he walked surprisingly quickly through the undergrowth on his back legs looking for ants (the front feet are like hands and have long claws and the back feet are padded and look like Elephant’s feet) and he left little time for photos. Seeing a Pangolin so closely and being able to observe his behaviour was an unforgettable wildlife experience and knowing that he will soon be back in the wild areas where he belongs left us hopeful for the future.

REST are a small organisation, but there work does so much good for the welfare of Namibia’s wildlife. For Pangolins, their aim is to place some sort of lightweight tracking device on one of their rescue and release animals so more research can be done on their movements and behaviour. Pangolins are one of the least studied and understood animals on the planet and in the face of rampant poaching and habitat loss, they desperately need our support. REST are at the forefront of these efforts and I have nothing but admiration for what they do.

Encounter the Wild will shortly be setting up a donation fund for REST so that they can realise their ambition to track a wild Pangolin for research purposes. Once the final details have been agreed, we will be posting updates and asking for small contributions. The Pangolin is a wonderful animal, deserving of its special attention, and even the smallest amount of money will help REST in their efforts to save them.

For a great article about REST and the Pangolin we met, please click here.

Some Pangolin facts for you:

  1. Also known as the scaly anteater. The name pangolin comes from the Malay word “pengguling”, meaning to roll up.
  2. Of the four species found in Africa, Namibia has the Temmincks Pangolin (Cape Pangolin).
  3. Soley ground living, where other species are tree climbers.
  4. They are nocturnal ant and termite eaters and are covered in scales that serve as protection. When they feel threatened, they roll themselves in a tight ball to protect the vulnerable underbelly. The scales are made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails.
  5. They have very powerful hind legs and a strong tail and usually, when walking, rarely use the small front legs. The front legs have long sharp digging claws for breaking into the food source nests.
  6. They have no teeth and use their sticky tongue to feed. They can spray a noxious acid from anal glands similar in fashion to a skunk.
  7. They are a solitary animal when not breeding or with young. They live in burrows which they have dug themselves, or by others like the aardvark. While inside sleeping, they often block the entrance to the burrow with earth.
  8. Total length with tail is up to 1.2 metres and they weigh approximately 3 kg.
  9. The female gives birth to a single baby usually during the winter months, weighing in at about 380 grams, after a gestation period of nearly 5 months.
  10. Weaning takes place at around 3 months, the baby often climbing on the mother’s tail as she moves about. They are sexually mature at 2 years old.
  11. Unfortunately, the eastern market for meat as a delicacy and scales for supposed medicine has put the Pangolin on the endangered species list since 2010. Electric fences are also another hazard, as when they are shocked the Pangolin’s defence kicks in and often it curls around the wire and receives further shocks resulting in its death.

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