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Unusual Sightings


Pangolin at Zibadianja Camp - 07 Jul 2008

Observers: Ilana Stein, Caroline Culbert

The game drive that afternoon began well. We headed off to see the two Selinda Brothers - cheetah siblings that Gordie and Dukes had spotted on their way back from the airstrip with guests earlier on. We found them lying nonchalantly on a termite mound, showing off their photogenic skills. It was a very close sighting but we eventually left them to see if we could find the lions for two new guests on the vehicle.

However the lions would have to wait. On the way, Gordon spotted a small brown mound shuffling through the grass a few meters away from the road. He gave a yelp, echoed by those of us who realized what this was, and whirled the vehicle around to stop next to what was undeniably and thrillingly a pangolin! The beast tried to waddle off but to no avail; he (unless it was a she) had some very excited people around him so he just curled his snout under him and pretended he was a large artichoke. But it was too late, we had realized we were looking at a once-in-a-lifetime sighting.

Pangolins are found in Asia and Africa, but there is only one species to be found in southern Africa - the Temminck's or Ground Pangolin (Manis temmincki). It is covered with hard scales of the nail material keratin (which is why it resembles a giant artichoke), feeds on termites, is secretive, nocturnal, small and endangered - hence the virtual impossibility of seeing one, and our excitement.

It's also meant to be good luck to see one according to local lore, so the other guides who were in the area came to spend time with it, bringing their excited guests with them. As the sun set, we all stood looking at this amazing creature that occasionally would allow us a glance of a face with a long snout and bleary eyes. After a while we left him to waddle determinedly off into the grass. We turned around and returned to camp, all feeling immensely satisfied with such an incredible sighting.

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