A Day with a Pangolin

It is incredibly difficult to try and decide which one of my images I liked the most. I am not even sure if it’s one I love the most because it was artistically appealing, because it captured a rare moment or it was the joy of the challenge in trying to get it. I had to eventually succumb to a decision on an image that was high up on all those fronts.

I probably took an image in the year that looked better on a wall. I probably was in a sighting here and there that got my adrenalins levels spiking a little higher. But overall, I would say this image meant the most to me because of what it represented.

I have been traveling around Africa for most of my life. Living, mostly, out of my beaten-up VW City Golf as I sojourned from one camp to the next. Desperately in search, always, for something new. A new experience, an animal I had not seen, a landscape I had not explored. A combination of my own travels and that of a safari guide led me to some of Africa’s most iconic areas as well as some of its most hidden secrets. I was, I am, forever grateful for what I was able to experience in my life. There was, however, somethings that eluded me no matter how hard I looked for them.

Pangolins are high up on the animal traffickers check list. Already a secretive and elusive animal, to make things worse, it now is one of the hardest animals to witness in the wild. Their number have plummeted over the years due to foreign demands of fictitious theories of medicinal use, or it valuable scales.

For me, I had all but excepted I would never see a pangolin in the wild. Apart from one, in my days in Namibia, that had a GPS chip within its scales and that could be found with a telemetry fairly easily, I had only ever seen a few tracks. There is a sanctuary, though, where their numbers are not only stable, they are climbing. There whereabouts, there habits too, are studied daily to learn more about these fascinating animals. In the practice’s visitors to Tswalu Private Game Reserve are able to find, with the aid of experienced trackers, wild pangolins in broad daylight. Finally, people can witness these mystical creatures in the natural habitat and in it most essential form, undisturbed by man. And I was about to experience it myself.

Our first afternoon searching for pangolins I was still in disbelief of the stories that pangolin could be found so regularly here. deflecting the spill over of confidence form our guides and trackers. Even when we had exited the vehicle to walk, after pre-positioned trackers had been set upon and area and had found tracks that looked barely more than the marks of a leaf blowing over the sand and hand led them to a pangolin, I was still skeptical. Only when the me memorizing shine of the seemingly metallized and rippling scales shone back at me through the grass, I accepted thus beautiful reality. I was spell bound by this creature. Hustling the grasslands, scrounging ant colonies, resting in the shade of bushes before continuing on it search and in its prehistoric gait.

Hypnotized, for a while, by this utterly-unlike-any-other-animal for a while, I finally snapped out of it and went about trying to give honor to this animal through imagery. Not easy. Its low profile keeps it mostly hidden by grass the majority of the time. if pressured it will crawl into its protective ball and will test the most patient in a waiting game to see it unravel and continue its antics. One must be patient. Read its direction of travel, stay down wind and hope it will travel into a gap you have strategically positioned yourself to shoot through. Often, it will change direction at the last second and leave you with a messy image of grass, twigs and a hint of scale. But, when patient, a moment, sometimes ever so brief, will present itself and you can get a clean shot of one of the most intriguing animals on earth.

In three days, I only managed the one image, of what I am immensely grateful for. I often spend weeks in ‘game-rich’ areas looking for ‘common’ species and come home with nothing. So, to spend three days with one of the most elusive and interesting animals on earth, and to come out with an image I was really pleased with… I had to call this particular image one of my favorites.

I hope you get a chance to see it too!

Andrew Danckwerts

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