Have you ever seen a pangolin in the wild? Not many of you would say yes to this question and the reason for this is that they are extremely rare and rather difficult to find.
It is a creature that evaded me for about 7 years of my guiding career, and that was with me being out in the bush day after day! Sadly however, these animals are on the Endangered species list.
Because they are hunted for of their skin, scales, and meat and some of their body parts are used in the making of traditional medicines. This has seen the number of pangolin in the world drop to a point where they are now under threat of becoming extinct. Their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are believed to have medicinal properties.
There are 8 different species of pangolin and all eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws. Two of which are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN(International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.
These animals are nocturnal, which means that for the most part they only come out at night, making it very difficult to find them. They generally live in termite mounds or in holes created by other animals such as Aardvarks(ant bears), spending the majority of the day resting, sleeping and conserving energy before emerging at night to feed. They seek out active termite mounds and use their long tongue, roughly 30-40cm long, to shoot it up the different channels in the mound and collecting any termite on its path. The length of either tongue combined with the sticky saliva it secretes makes this possible.
Their body is made up entirely of scales which serves as protection. If a pangolin is threatened or senses danger it rolls into a tight ball protecting all the soft areas such as its face and belly. Theses scales are extremely hard and very difficult to break through.
Other interesting facts about pangolins:
- They have been recorded to live up to 20 years old
- They prefer to live alone, instead of small groups of families
- Their scales are made up of Keratin, which is the same substance our finger nails are made from
- Pangolins are bipedal, this means that when they walk they keep their front feet and tail in the air
- They have very poor hearing and eyesight
- Four species live in Africa: Black-bellied pangolin , White-bellied pangolin , Giant Ground pangolin and Temminck's Ground pangolin
I have only ever seen a aardvark twice in my life, once was many years ago when I was still a kid, we were driving in the Timbavati when one dashed across the road right in front of us. We drove around the thicket to try and get a better look, only to find that a pride of lions had taken it down and were busy feasting on the aardvark. The second occasion, a leopard had killed and aardvark and hoisted it up in a tree(so I don't really count that on).
They are extremely rare to see and if you ever do, consider yourself very VERY lucky!
Other interesting facts about aardvarks:
- They live up to around 20 years of age
- Their name translated into english means earth pig
- They can eat 50,000 to 60,000 ants and termites in one night.
- They live in burrows which can run up to 13 meters in depth.
- Seldomly during the cooler months they will come out to feed, but are more nocturnal covering over 10 km in a single evening in search of active termite mounds.
- An aardvarks eyes are not that great, this means that they use their nose and ears to locate their food and will only feed on ants and termites.
Photographing both these animals can be tricky. They are often moving around at night and due to their poor eyesight, one never really wants to shine a bright spotlight on them. Luckily, during the cooler winter months, they tend to come out from their burrows in the late afternoon and continue to move through the night into the morning. Majority of the time when they come across vehicles or people they will curl up into a ball and wait for them to move before continuing with their daily business. Very seldom do they remain relaxed enough to continue moving undisturbed.
The best photographic advice I can give is to get low. Low angle shots showcase the animal at eye level and if the subject is moving this will show off their bipedal movement. This obviously depends on the area in which it is moving. Other than that, get creative, think outside the box and play around like I have in the texture image above. Sometimes it may be more of a memory shot as both these creatures often move through dense vegetation. In this case, the best advice I can give you is to put the camera down and enjoy this incredibly rare and special sighting.
Until next time,