Every year on the third Saturday of February we get to celebrate World Pangolin Day. Pangolins are such secretive and mysterious creatures and whenever we find one at Londolozi the excitement in the air is palpable. Rangers will drop everything that they’re doing in order to show their guests these peculiar little animals.
The announcement of a pangolin sighting usually evokes one of two emotions; uncontrollable elation for those guests and rangers who know what they’re about to see, and confusion for those who have no idea what a pangolin is. Thus, the purpose of today’s blog is to introduce the pangolin in such a way that everyone can share the excitement of seeing these amazing animals, whilst raising awareness around a Critically Endangered Species.
To describe pangolins as unique is an understatement of note. They are like nothing else on earth. Pangolins are small ant-eating mammals that are covered from head to tail in hard scales. In fact, there are no scaled mammals other than pangolins. Their hard scales protect them from predators, and should a pangolin be attacked by a predator, it will roll itself into a ball forming an impenetrable barrier. The pangolin’s sharp, partially serrated scales are so effective that even lions, leopards and hyenas struggle to break through them.
I have seen a number of occasions when a frustrated big cat gives up trying to break through a pangolin’s tough outer shell.
Pangolins are very difficult to find in the wild due to their retiring natures. Although they are seen in the daytime, they tend to prefer scurrying around at night in search of their favourite food – termites and ants. Pangolins put their long and sharp front claws and powerful front legs to good use as they dig open termite mounds and ant nests. Once inside a mound, pangolins use their long, sticky tongue to lap up their quarry.
Amazingly, a pangolin can eat up to 20 000 ants in one day! Should their prey fight back, the pangolin can seal its ears and nostrils to keep the biting soldier ants and termites at bay. When they aren’t out foraging, pangolins rest in the thick bush making them tricky to spot.
Although World Pangolin Day celebrates these rare and intriguing animals, it also raises awareness of the plight they face. Of the eight different pangolin species found throughout the world, all of them are either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. In fact, the pangolin is the most trafficked wild animal on the planet.
The primary reason for this high demand is that some people believe that pangolin’s scales have medicinal properties. The scales are used in fashion, or the meat is eaten as a delicacy. There is also demand in the United States for pangolin products, particularly for their leather to be used in boots, bags, and belts. By raising awareness about the hardship these innocent animals face, we hope to bring an end to the senseless killing of one of nature’s most wonderful creations.
I will never forget the first time I saw a pangolin, not for any other reason apart from simply seeing such a rare and bizarre animal. It left a lasting impression on me. Even though pangolins perfectly occupy their own little ecological niche, they desperately need our help. In order to protect these amazing animals, we must do everything we can to raise awareness and to create and expand natural safe havens for them.
Londolozi is one of these havens. We will do everything we can to protect these special scaly mammals and it is my hope that they will be around for many years to come so that others may get to experience the same feeling that I did when I first saw a wild pangolin.