What’s a Pangolin?
Pangolins, also sometimes called scaly anteaters, are strange looking creatures covered with protective horny, overlapping scales. It is estimated that the Southern African Pangolin has been around for over 40 million years, adapting itself to the changing environment in order to survive.
Pangolins are in no way related to armadillos.
The giant pangolin (Manis gigantea) is mostly found in the wetter areas of Uganda, western Kenya and Tanzania. It is a very strong digger, enabling it to open termite mounds with ease. To do so, it rests its entire weight on its tail, tearing the earth apart with its clawed forefeet and kicking the broken clods away with its hind legs. It can also stand and walk upright on its hind legs.
The tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) occurs in the same regions as the giant pangolin but prefers forests of secondary growth. Its hind legs have long toes with well-developed claws for climbing. The tail is longer than the body, with a fingerlike pad at the tip that functions as a “fifth limb” for climbing trees.
The scales are numerous and thin. The animal preens itself by scratching with the hind legs, lifting its scales so the claws can reach the skin. It also uses its tongue to remove insects from under the scales.
The common pangolin (Manis temminckii) has a small head and a long, broad tail. It prefers sandy soils and is found in woodlands and savannas, within reach of water.
The Southern African Common pangolin can be found in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and also in the northern regions of South Africa, where there is no frost and a lots of ants to eat.
Pangolins spend most of their time in burrows (often abandoned warthog burrows). They only come out at night. A pangolin only walks a few miles each night, but tends to use the same burrow for many months.
Because of their poor sight, pangolins have to rely on their well-developed sense of smell to find their way. Contrary to popular belief, pangolins do not use their anal glands for scent-marking. Instead, they urinate on the sand, then roll around in it. The scent rubs off on the grass as they walk and helps them find their way back to the burrow.
Pangolins feed mostly on ants and termites, which are gathered up from the ground. Termite nests provide larger and more concentrated sources of food. Pangolins also dig insects from mounds with their claws. Because they are toothless, they use their extremely long tongues (up to 16 inches) to collect their prey.Large salivary glands coat the long tongue with a gummy mucus to which ants and termites stick. Their stomach is also specially adapted for grinding food. This process is helped along by the small stones and sand pangolins consume.
For protection, pangolins rely on their ability to roll themselves into a ball. This is done successfully for protection in the wild, since it takes considerable force to unroll them. The cutting action of their armor-plated scales, worked by powerful muscles, protect them, too, by inflicting serious wounds on anything inserted between them.Leopards and other large animals such as hyenas occasionally prey on pangolins, but they are obviously well-protected from smaller predators.
These mechanisms are, however, not adequate protection against man because pangolins are also hunted by humans for their scales. The trade of these scales has taken off in Asia, where the future of pangolins is in danger. Although it is not yet serious in Africa, there is enough hunting to cause concern.
Although we cannot obviously guarantee a sighting of a Pangolin rest assured our guides will try their utmost anyway!!!