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January 2015

Mid-summer approaches and normal rainfall still evades us. Fortunately the little rain that has fallen has been relatively gentle and effective thanks also to overcast and generally cool weather. Plant growth has however been inhibited to some extent, so this could be a good season to get on top of the weed problem. However, we will give weeds a break again this first month of 2015 and instead, a recent rare sighting in the Kruger Park will be the subject of this article.

I was lucky enough to see a Pangolin (Scaly Anteater) or “Ietermagog” - a “lifer” for me! When first spotted in the failing light, I thought I was observing a brown Elephant trunk in the grass alongside the Voortrekker Road (H2-2) near the Pretoriuskop rest camp! When the remainder of the “Elephant” was absent, I excitedly realised that I had spotted a very special animal! Sadly, it was a rather brief glimpse of this elusive fellow but it was fortunately also observed by my two companions in the vehicle, when it stood up on its hind legs and busily went about its business of finding ants and termites.

Ground/Cape Pangolin (Mantis temminckii)
Description: A solitary, nocturnal animal, measuring over 1 m. in length and weighing up to 18 kg. The body is protected by brown scales (much like globe artichoke leaves) covering all but its head and belly. The front legs have 3 elongated claws for digging and are shorter than the hind legs. The broad-based tail tapers to a rounded tip.

Diet: An abundant supply of ants and termites governs its occurrence, as does the availability of burrows for shelter. They are highly selective, feeding on only 19 species of ants and termites. Prey is located by smell, walking on its hind legs, sniffing continually with its nose close to the ground and its forelegs and tail touching the ground occasionally for balance. When an ant or termite nest is located, the Pangolin uses its front claws to break open a hole - into which it inserts its long, sticky tongue to retrieve its prey from the ant nest passages. Any sand that is swallowed along with the ants is used to help grind the soft food in its muscular stomach (much like a bird’s gizzard) as it has no teeth.

Breeding: Pangolins pair briefly for 1-2 days in March. Mating occurs side-by-side, with the male forcing his tail beneath the female to assist coitus. A single young is born after a gestation period of 135 days, during winter. Young are carried on the backs of the mother, clinging near the base of the tail.

Defence: Self-defence is achieved by rolling up into a ball when threatened. Pangolin can also lash out with the razor-sharp scales on their tails.

Habitat: Found mainly in savannah woodlands, avoiding deserts and forest.

Distribution: Eastern and southern Africa, from northeastern Chad and Sudan southwards to South Africa.

General: Pangolins are endangered due to habitat destruction and human predation for their scales (used in Chinese and African medicine) and meat. Eight species exist in the world, four in Africa, and four in south SE Asia. All eight species are considered endangered. The name originates from the Malay word pengguling meaning to “roll up”.

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