Armoured Marvel

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Pangolin
Pangolin spotted in the Klaserie Reserve. Pictures: David Batzofin
David Batzofin
David Batzofin

David Batzofin’s life-long dream comes to fruition when he gets to spend 90 minutes with a pangolin in the Klaserie Reserve

For as long as I can remember, top of my Wild Life Wish List has been to see a Pangolin. Every time I visited a lodge and the rangers asked about favourites, “pangolin” was my first word. On my most recent trip to Klaserie Sands River Camp, I broke that tradition and requested hyena instead, just as a way of not tempting fate this time.

Ace tracker Caswell waits at the sighting with me, without having to be asked twice!

We had just started a morning drive when a garbled call came in over the radio. Nerise, our field guide, Caswell our tracker, and I, all thought we had heard “penguin” but an Antarctic creature in the middle of the South African bush seemed unlikely.

“Repeat please” radio’ed Nerise. “PANGOLIN” was the response. Stop the vehicle!

pangolin
Eventually a snout appeared out of the undergrowth

Was my dream finally about to become reality? We set off some distance away in the opposite direction and arrived to find Ross, the guide from a neighbouring camp who had called in the sighting, pointing to a spot under some branches…I held my breath and peered into the undergrowth. There it was! Curled up and trying to make itself as inconspicuous as possible. The most trafficked animal on Earth lay (almost) at my feet. At least  53 years of waiting had come to fruition.  I felt overwhelmed  High-5’s were shared. None of us, including the American guests on our vehicle could believe our luck.

The site of the sighting.

It is hard to describe my emotions, but gratitude, for being able to share this sighting with like-minded people felt most prominent. This animal had been top of my list for decades.

Then a buffalo sighting was called in. Nerise offered to take the international guests to see them and leave Caswell and me with the pangolin. Yes please!…

Once all the vehicles and their guests had left the area, its tiny face slowly peered out of the undergrowth. Would it emerge? I held my breath…

Finally, it crept out of the safety of the branches. Picture: David Batzofin

Eventually a snout appeared out of the undergrowth and the front feet. Although pangolin . have several huge claws, those are used for digging and not as a defence. Their major form of self-protection ‒ rolling into a tight ball ‒is also their biggest weakness. In this position, they can be picked up and placed in a container without any resistance.

Still uncertain of the threat posed by those still at the sighting, it rolled into a partial ball and ended up looking like a giant artichoke. Pictures: David Batzofin

Still uncertain of the threat posed by those still at the sighting, it rolled into a partial ball, looking like a giant artichoke.

Finally, it crept out of the safety of the branches, scuttled across in front of us and was off!

David Batzofin in his favourite environment

To be this close to this rare, critically endangered creature was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and made me want to weep. I am both grateful and blessed to have finally seen my ‘unicorn’. Now to find a new Number 1 for my Wild Life Wish List!

Fact File

  • The name, Pangolin, is derived from the Malay word ‘pengguling’, which means ‘rolling up’.
  • On the brink of extinction, these critically endangered elusive mammals are been taken out of the wild at the rate of almost 1 every 5 minutes, making them the most trafficked creature in the world.
  • There are eight species of Pangolin. Four in Asia: the Chinese, the Malayan, the Indian and the Palawan Pangolin. And four in Africa: the Tree Pangolin, the Giant Ground Pangolin, the Cape Pangolin and the Long-tailed Pangolin. Their scales, which completely cover them, make up about 20% of their  weight.
  • Pangolin scales can fetch in excess of $3000 per kilogram on the black market, to be exploited in local and international traditional medicine markets. Being made of keratin ‒ the same as our fingernails‒the scales have NO medicinal properties at all, but  poachers continue to catch and kill them for their meat( $300 per kilogram) and scales.