There are times in the bush when you feel that no matter how hard you try, you are still no closer to achieving the intended outcome. That has been the case for me in the early stages of this year, particularly in finding spotted cats! With the incredible lion activity taking place on Londolozi at the moment, finding leopards has been a little more tricky than usual. A number of dead ends have made us appreciate the current lion dynamics without the distraction of leopards. To return to the above mentioned tough time, these spurts of bad luck are often turned around with a sudden and unexpected stroke of pure luck.
This was no ordinary moment, had I seen a leopard in a tree or a male lion roaring that would have been enough to do the trick in turning my luck around. Instead this was a sighting so incredibly special and seldom seen that rangers and trackers stopped what they were doing/ seeing and brought their guests to a once-in-a-lifetime sighting.
After laying eyes on the elusive creature. Foster, my tracker, took a deep breath and could only manage to tap on the bonnet. I hit the brakes and the car came to a sudden halt, still not certain of the reason for stopping. ‘PANGOLIN!’ Foster eventually managed to get out. I immediately jumped out and made my way up to the scaly mass that was now motionless in the grass. Making up around 20% of the body weight of these incredibly shy, nocturnal animals, the scales provide a crucial defence for the otherwise slow moving pangolin.
The rest of the team started to arrive bringing guests from far off to catch a lucky glimpse. Trevor was first on the scene and in his years, of both, visiting and working in the bush it was the first time he had got to see one. Guests, their smiling rangers and trackers came and left, even a vehicle filled with staff left the lodge to bare witness.
After the main rush and excitement had time to subside a patient group of staff and a handful of guests took a few steps back. They stood in silence, to allow for their best chance, as they hoped to see the scaled ball (now curled up for protection) unravel and possibly move off. The pangolin has very poor hearing and vision but a keen sense of smell to track down the ants and termites it preys upon(up to three million of the tiny insects every year). Minutes past and patience was rewarded, the ball unravelled and the pangolin stood up and on its hind legs started to walk off. The tail and forelegs counter balancing each other as the bipedal animal slipped into the long grass.
The rest of the afternoon only got better and I was left thinking of the next time I might possibly see another pangolin. I have been lucky enough to see three in the last six months and I’m staring to wonder if I have reached my limit. A first for some and possibly a last for others, we just hope that we haven’t blown our budget for the year…
Tell us about your sighting if you have been lucky enough to see one of these mysterious animals.
Written by Simon Smit
Photographed by Simon Smit, Don Heyneke, Tony Wake