A few weeks ago Mike Sutherland ran a post on his first ever Pangolin sighting. Then he saw a 2nd one a few days later. I was on leave at the time, so my dislike of him intensified. Ranger Dean Smithyman was also there, as documented in a post entitled ‘Why I don’t like Dean Smithyman‘.
2 Pangolins in a week, pretty much unheard of at Londolozi. These shy, nocturnal creatures are on every ranger worth his or her salt’s bucket list, but some people are destined to work in the bush for 20 years without ever having glimpsed one. After the two had been seen (probably the same animal, though, as both sightings were in the same area), I was convinced that I would have to wait another couple of years before one was found again.
But NO! Little did I know it would only be a couple of weeks!!
We were driving near the Maxabene riverbed on the first day of the new guest’s stay when Jordan, one of the guests, asked from the back seat, “James, what’s the rarest animal you see here?” Cursing under my breath to be reminded of the one animal still eluding me, I rummaged round for my mammal book, handed it back to Jordan and said, “It’s called a Pangolin. Have a look in the book, but don’t expect to see one, I’m afraid.” I then spent the rest of the evening sulking that I would probably never see one either.
Not 48 hours later, we were cruising in the deep south when Sandros Sihlangu’s deep bass voice came onto the radio: “Anyone operating near Rhino Dam?”.
“Go ahead with what you’ve got, Chief…” came Tom Imrie’s response.
“Scaly anteater; Pangolin!” Was the big chief’s reply.
Before I had taken my next breath my foot was flat on the accelerator! “Sandros I’m making my way! Please stay with the animal if possible!” I practically yelled into my mike (as in Microphone, not Mike Sutherland) as the vehicle picked up speed.
Now I must stress to everyone that we were nowhere near Rhino Dam. We were pretty much on the other side of the property. Ironically it was rhino that we were looking for that afternoon, but there were none near their namesake waterhole at the time. And in a wonderfully serendipitous twist of fate, it was only two days before that I had stressed to my guests how incredibly rare a pangolin was, so explaining our change in course and mission and speed was a relatively simple matter. Ok to be honest I pretty much floored it and said, “You remember that rare animal I told you about? Well they’ve found one and we’re going to see it!” I didn’t really leave much room for discussion on the matter, for which I feel a tad guilty.
A solid 10 minutes of high-speed driving later, we spotted Sandros’ vehicle ahead of us, with an animated crowd of guests gathered around something on the ground.
I was pretty much speechless at coming face-to-face with a Pangolin for the first time, and my excitement resulted in a bit of incoherence on my part. It was a highlight of my bush career that I will remember vividly for a long, long time to come!
Now I can sit back happily, content in the knowledge that I, too, have seen one, and the next time I hear one called in on the radio I don’t have to pull a Chuck Yeager to get there.
Our crew on the vehicle had a good laugh when the next morning we were on our way back to camp, slightly late for the guest’s transfer out of the lodge, when Kerry, one of the guests, said, “James, we’re running late, drive Pangolin Speed!”
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell