On an overcast, cooler summer morning (when I say cooler I mean 26 degrees Celsius cool, instead of the usual mid 30s of summer) we left on drive just after 5:00am in search of male lions, and headed into the south-eastern section of Londolozi. A few hours later we had had no signs of any, yet refused to give up hope.

After a nerve-wracking encounter with a gigantic black mamba, which reared up alongside the vehicle which almost sent tracker Lucky Shabangu somersaulting back into the passenger seat, we were passing a small pan when all of a sudden Lucky’s hand shot out and he started garbling something incoherent while pointing to a spot in the long grass.

Obviously realising he’d seen something important, I hit the brakes, and there in the grass only twenty metres from the road stood a Pangolin, one of the rarest, and most endangered animals we could possibly find at Londolozi!

We all disembarked the vehicle in fascination to view the scaled mammal. I was gobsmacked to be seeing what (for me at least) is almost the holy grail of wildlife sightings, especially as this was my first encounter with one, after over twenty years of visiting the bush.
The Pangolin was relatively undeterred by our presence but as soon as we ventured closer it rolled into a ball to protect itself.

Rolled up and protected by its scaled armory disallows the threat of lions or hyenas from penetrating the scales.

A close up showing the textures and overlapping scales as well as its protected feet.

We kept our distance, and after a few minutes it realized we weren’t a threat and unravelled its scaly body and proceeded to move off through the grass. This had been a first for me. The rarity of this sighting gave the whole morning a completely surreal feeling to it after that.

Slowly unravelling from its protective ball, its head appears first to make sure any threat has moved off so it can make a hasty retreat to cover.

Although having a superficial resemblance to armadillos, Pangolins are not related and are placed in a different taxonomic order. Being the most trafficked animal in the world, pangolins are under threat, which makes a sighting like ours – out in the open and in a safe reserve where there are no threats apart from other wildlife – that much more special.

It was such a bizarre looking creature to encounter, one that almost seemed out of place; or was it just that I had never encountered one before? It will always be a moment, a discovery and an experience I will never forget.

The hairs around its eyes most likely serve an alternate purpose to aiding its vision. Hairs will allow it to be able to orientate itself when digging at night.

With strong back legs for a counterbalanced walk, forelimbs primarily used for digging, the pangolin makes a hasty retreat for cover.

A natural grass frame showing textures and formation of the scales of this rare and wonderful mammal.

Along with rolling into a tight ball and impenetrable keratin scales, the sharp edges of the scales may aid in its defence against predators.

 

 

About the Author

Alex Jordan

Field Guide

Born in Cape Town, Alex grew up on a family wine estate in Stellenbosch. Spending much of his young life outdoors, Alex went on many a holiday into Southern Africa’s national parks and wild areas. After finishing high school, he completed a number ...

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24 Comments

on What is the Rarest Animal to See at Londolozi?

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Marinda Drake

Amazing sighting. Still high on my bucket list.

Darlene Knott

Wow, a black mamba and a pangolin the same morning! Unbelievable! Loved the pics and especially loved the video! What a lucky day you had! Thanks for sharing, Alex!

Wendy Macnicol

I have never seen such a wonderful close up of a Pangolin – in fact, I have never seen one at all in the Bush. We have seen Aardvark twice at Mabula and once an Aardwolf did a wee in front of the Landdrover in the nice soft earth of the road. When he had finished, he covered the hole tidily and went trundling off again into the Bush. It was around 6 in the evening for the Aardvark sightings and around mid afternoon I seem to remember for the Aardwolf. We were delighted with all the sightings of course! Blessings to all. Wendy

Bonnie Olson

I love seeing this pangolin! Thank you for sharing it here.

Alex Jordan

Thank you. It was an amazing experience

Lucie Easley

Congratulations, Alex, on such a wonderful sighting of this beautiful creature, and for sharing the photos and video with all of us.

Alex Jordan

Thank you so much Lucie

Denise Vouri

How incredible to be able to view this Pangolin at such close range. Your photos are amazing as well as the video. I’m still holding out hope to see one – five trips to Africa and it’s eluded me each time. Oh well, something to look forward to seeing on my next trip.

Alex Jordan

Keep those fingers crossed and you never know. I have been fortunate to experience the bush my entire life growing up and it’s a first for me but one never knows. Someone could experience safari for the first time and encounter one. Very lucky.

Ian Hall

I am still waiting for my caracal, but wonderful sighting

Alex Jordan

Hahaha. A Caracal would be right up there. Caracal are not endangered but a very rare and special sighting at Londolozi if one is fortunate to encounter one. This due to high predator numbers which could pose a threat to their survival.

Mary Beth Wheeler

Wow! Sighting of a lifetime & great photos to prove it!

Alex Jordan

Exactly that. Thank you so much

Joanne Wadsworth

I find this absolutely fascinating and what excellent images! A pangolin looks almost prehistoric. Sad to hear they are endangered. So glad you saw this. I hope to one day! Again, great job Alex.

Alex Jordan

Thank you Joanne. Hopefully one day you too can experience one alive and well at Londolozi

Guy Lacy Chapman

Yoh! This would be a dream sighting! Amazing!

Alex Jordan

It was indeed

Ashraf Refat

Brilliant !!

Alex Jordan

Thank you

Callum Evans

Absolutely out of this world!!! I can count on one hand the number of my friends who have seen a pangolin!! You’ve basically won the lottery!!

Alex Jordan

Exactly how i felt Callum. It was a memory guests and i will always remember

Gillian Lacey

Last year I went to the Natural History Museum in London to see the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which they have on display. All the photos were stunning whether for subject matter or technical brilliance but there was one photo that particularly stuck in my mind. It was of thousands of frozen dead pangolin that had been intercepted by customs as they were being smuggled out of Africa. As illustrated by the video clip in the blog because pangolins roll up in defence they are an easy target for human smugglers. It was a tragic and ghastly photo and puts into perspective the rarity of these creatures.
In contrast wonderful to see this creature living at Londolozi – long may it continue

Alex Jordan

Thanks so much Gillian. That must have been a horrible sight, yet i am sure it aids in creating awareness about this wonderful yet endangered creatures.

Michael & Terri Klauber

Alex, Holy cow, they do exist at Londolozi! How “lucky” for Lucky to find one and for you to also get video and photos – close up! Thanks so much for sharing that amazing sighting!

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