Bush rock stars: Pangolin

2014-07-21 16:31

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While the South African bush may be famous for its Big 5, it's also home to a whole bunch of smaller creatures that slip under the average tourist's radar... and seem to prefer it that way.

Known as the Secret Seven, the Serval, Aardvark, Pangolin, Genet, African Wildcat, Civet and Porcupine are notoriously elusive, managing to escape the curious eyes of even regular bush visitors.

In the next few days we'll be featuring a series on these "bush rock stars" where we take a look at their quirky traits and secret super powers.

Ground Pangolin

Is it a nuked pine cone? Is it a idiosyncratic dinosaur? Is it one of Goku's dragon balls? No! It's an African ground pangolin!

Also known as Temminck's Pangolin or the Cape Pangolin, this prehistoric-looking creature is probably one of the rarest sightings on any safari and a memorable highlight if spotted.

(Maria Diekman, REST)

With the exception of the underside, it is covered in extremely hard scales from its tiny head, that it normally keeps close to the ground, to the tip of its long, thick tail. If threatened, its immediate defense mechanism is to roll itself up into a armour-plated ball, however, the sharp scales on its tail can also be used as weapons to ward off attackers. The name of the Pangolin comes from the Malay word, pengguling, which means ‘to roll up.'

There are a total of eight species of pangolin on our planet. Four live in Asia and four live in Africa. The Cape Pangolin is the one that occurs here in southern Africa, as well as east Africa.

Here are 5 strange pangolin facts:

- Pangolins don't have teeth. That's right, they can't bite, or for that matter, chew. Instead, they have a long, super sticky tongue used to catch insects, their main prey.

- They can voluntarily constrict their ears and nostrils to keep insects out while they are feeding.

- It's believed that a single pangolin consumes more than 70 million insects per year. They mainly eat ants and termites.

- According to the African Wildlife Foundation, the pangolin's main survival threat is the belief that they possess magic or charms. "When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralize witchcraft and evil spirits. If buried near a man's door, they are said to give an interested woman power over him. Sometimes the scales are burned to keep lions and other wild animals away. In some areas, pangolins are sacrificed for rainmaking ceremonies; in other areas, they are hunted for meat."

- Baby pangolins travel around with their mothers by riding on the base of her tail.

(Maria Dieman, REST)

And a few must-knows for successful spotting:

- Size: The Ground pangolin can grow to a length of about 1 metre, with the tail typically between 30 and 50 cm.

- Habitat: They prefer savannah woodlands, but it are also found on floodplain grasslands, rocky slopes and sandveld. They are not found in deserts and forests.

- Distribution in SA: Widely distributed is southern African subregion north of the Orange River, parts of Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. They do occur in the Kruger Park, but as mentioned before, spotting one is extremely rare.

- Family life: A Pangolin couple pairs briefly for 1-2 days during, usually March and the female gives birth to a single young after a gestation period of 135 days. Give birth? Yup, though they may look rather reptilian, they actually are mammals. Young are suckled in the den, where they are left behind when the female goes out to forage. Young are frequently moved to a new den after about the first month.

Check out the Rare and Endangered Species Trust's Facebook page for more cute Pangolin pictures.

Read more on:    travel south africa


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