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.
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.
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.